Naturally processed peptides from immunoaffinity-purified HLA-DRB1*0401, -DRB1*0404 (rheumatoid arthritis (RA)-associated), and -DRB1*0402 (non-RA-associated) molecules were analyzed by capillary liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. The molecular weights observed for more than 60 eluted peptides from each HLA-DR protein ranged from 788 to 3535 atomic mass units, corresponding to peptides 7 to 32 amino acids in length. Sequencing of more than 60 of the abundant peptides revealed nested sets of peptides that were derived from only 12 different proteins. The majority of these proteins were membrane-associated (HLA class I, class II, and Ig molecules). Synthetic peptides, corresponding to endogenous peptide sequences, bound with high affinity (5 to 80 nM) to the HLA-DR molecules from which they were eluted. In addition, most were promiscuous binding peptides in that they also bound to other HLA-DR molecules. Truncations of eluted peptide sequences and alanine scanning mutational analysis of a Mycobacterium leprae peptide were used to identify the peptide residues involved in binding to DRB1*0404 and DRB1*0402 molecules. Furthermore, an invariant chain peptide was eluted from the DRB1*0402 molecules but not from the RA-associated molecules. The lack of invariant chain peptides from DRB1*0401 and DRB1*0404 molecules may contribute to the loading of autoantigen peptides into these molecules and to their association with disease.

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