Blocking of the Ag presenting function of MHC by peptides capable of high affinity binding to this molecule has been proposed as a potential immunotherapeutic intervention in MHC-associated diseases. Recent studies have used this strategy to prevent the induction of experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) in mice. However, because of the close structural relationship between the inhibitor and encephalitogenic peptides, the results of these previous studies have been difficult to interpret with regard to whether MHC blockade was the mechanism by which the inhibitory peptides functioned. In our study, we have determined the capacity of unrelated peptides capable of binding with high affinity to IAs in inhibiting the induction of EAE in SJL/J mice after immunization with the autoantigenic peptide PLP 139-151. Prevention of the disease was accomplished by two methods: 1) when inhibitor was administered together with the encephalitogenic peptide at the time of immunization, as in previous studies, and 2) when inhibitor was administered at a separate site from the autoantigen 1 day before the immunization with that Ag. Inhibition was due to binding of the inhibitor to IAs, as evidenced by the fact that a control peptide incapable of binding to this MHC had no effect on the course of the disease. The finding that inhibitor could also be efficacious when administered at a separate site has implications for potential use of such a strategy to reverse ongoing autoimmune diseases. The inhibitor had to be present during the time of Ag stimulation, and had no long term inhibitory effects, in that a secondary immune response to the encephalitogenic peptide was not inhibited in animals given the inhibitory peptide before the induction of a primary response. This is compatible with the conclusion that MHC blockade was, in fact, the mechanism of the inhibition, rather than as a result of any long term suppressive effects on immunoreactive T cells. Finally, not only did administration of the inhibitory peptide lead to a prevention of the induction of EAE, but it could also be shown to decrease the T cell proliferative response in vitro to the autoantigen.

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