The injection of (C57BL/6 X DBA/2)F1 mice with parental DBA/2 lymphoid cells leads to a lupus-like disease in which IgG autoantibodies are targeted to certain nuclear and cell surface antigens. To investigate further the extent of antibody diversity in this graft-vs-host (GVH) model, we studied the specificity of antihistone antibodies induced by the GVH reaction. High levels of IgG antibodies to histones H1 and H2B were detected whereas responses to H2A, H3, and H4 were only marginally elevated above pre-GVH levels. Immunoblotting analysis further revealed that the response to H2B was focused on epitopes that most likely reside in the N-terminal region. In contrast, F1 mice immunized with H2B/RNA complexes in adjuvant produced antibodies to the N terminus as well as to other regions of the H2B molecule. Thus, the antihistone response stimulated by the GVH reaction is only a fraction of the potentially activatable B cell repertoire. We also determined whether antibodies that arise spontaneously in genetically predisposed lupus strains were restricted in their histone reactivity. The response to core histones was highly variable among individual animals of the NZB/NZW and MRL-lpr/lpr strains despite their inbred nature. However, nearly all mice exhibited a preferential reactivity for epitopes in histone regions that are lost after partial trypsin digestion of chromatin. These data demonstrating autoantibody responses that are limited to particular histone regions support a mechanism by which B cells are selectively activated in murine lupus. The predominant production of antibodies to histone regions that are exposed in nucleosomes raises the possibility that chromatin is an antigenic stimulus for histone-specific B cells in this disease.

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