The immune system has the potential to utilize a diverse T cell repertoire for the recognition of Ag in the context of MHC molecules. Here we describe the analysis of two rat T cell clones, both of which recognize a synthetic peptide comprised of the arthritis-associated 180-188 amino acid sequence of the mycobacterial 65-kDa heatshock protein (hsp65 180-188), but which differ in the recognition of the naturally processed hsp65. The arthritogenic T cell clone A2b, generated by immunization with whole Mycobacterium tuberculosis, recognized the hsp65 180-188 synthetic peptide as well as the processed hsp65, whereas T cell clone ATL11, generated after immunization with a single amino acid substituted peptide analog of hsp65 180-188, recognized peptide hsp65 180-188 but not the processed hsp65. For both T cell clones the minimal stimulatory sequence was hsp65 180-186. However, within this minimal stimulatory sequence marked differences between the clones were found with regard to peptide residues interacting with the TCR. Furthermore, addition of extra residues at the N terminus of the hsp65 180-186 sequence abrogated the recognition by clone ATL11, but not by A2b. These findings demonstrate that, upon in vivo immunization with a synthetic peptide comprised of a single amino acid variant of a T cell epitope, T cells can be triggered that recognize a peptide comprised of the original epitope sequence, but that do not recognize this epitope in its naturally processed protein fragment. The possibility of triggering such T cells by immunization with synthetic peptides, may well have consequences for the design of peptide vaccines or peptide immunomodulatory agents.

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