Susceptibility to experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis (EAMG), which is induced in mice by injection of purified Torpedo nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (TAChR), is influenced by the I-A locus products, which restrict presentation of AChR Th epitopes. The bm12 mutation of the I-Ab molecule in the C57BL/6 strain, which is highly susceptible to EAMG, yields the EAMG resistant mutant B6.C-H-2bm12 (bm12). We investigated here the consequences of the bm 12 mutation on the CD4+ response to the TAChR alpha subunit. Upon immunization with TAChR, CD4+ cells became sensitized to TAChR and anti-AChR antibodies were produced in both bm12 and C57BL/6 strains. Overlapping synthetic peptides, corresponding to the complete sequence of TAChR alpha subunit, were used to identify Th epitopes. CD4+ cells from C57BL/6 mice recognized peptides T alpha 150-169, T alpha 181-200, and T alpha 360-378. CD4+ cells from bm12 mice did not respond to any synthetic sequence. Upon injection of the three C57BL/6 Th epitope peptides, either individually or as a pool, CD4+ cells from C57BL/6 mice recognized each peptide and TAChR. Therefore they recognized epitopes similar or identical to those originated from TAChR processing. CD4+ cells from bm12 mice injected with the same peptides responded to T alpha 360-378 strongly, to a lesser extent to T alpha 181-200, never to peptide T alpha 150-169. Only CD4+ cells sensitized against the T epitope peptide T alpha 181-200 responded to TAChR. We tested if lack of response to T alpha 150-169, and the low response to T alpha 181-200, was due to inability of the I-Abm12 molecule to present the T epitope peptides. bm12 and C57BL/6 APC were used to present the T epitope peptides to specifically sensitized CD4+ cells from C57BL/6 mice. All T epitope peptides were presented by bm12 APC, although T alpha 150-169 was presented less efficiently than by C57BL/6 APC. Resistance to EAMG induced by the bm12 mutation may be due to the change in the epitope repertoire of AChR-specific Th cells, and lack of recognition of otherwise immunodominant Th epitopes. For at least one epitope this might be due to absence of potentially reactive, specific CD4+ clones.

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