Anti-nuclear antibody production in human and murine lupus is associated with inappropriate activation of self-reactive CD4+ helper T cells. Thymic clonal deletion appears intact, suggesting that self-reactive T cells do not merely escape negative selection. We hypothesize that defects in a post-selection mechanism of T cell tolerance that we call developmental tuning contribute to the pathogenesis of lupus. To avoid autoimmunity, positive selection must be followed by a period of developmental tuning when T cell receptor (TCR) responsiveness to low affinity self-peptides is inhibited. We hypothesize that this fundamental mechanism of self-tolerance is disrupted in lupus. We recently utilized transgenic mice with restricted expression of MHC class II to demonstrate that CD4 SP thymocytes that cannot interact with MHCII after they have been selected retain the phenotype of immature cells and are hyperresponsive to TCR signaling. We proposed that developmental tuning is an active event requiring ongoing interactions between the CD4 SP thymocyte and MHC class II (MHCII) thymic medullary stroma. We now find that CD4 SP thymocytes from lupus prone mice are similarly hyperactive. We now propose to identify the molecular mechanisms regulating developmental tuning.
In Specific Aim I, we will define the molecular and cellular interactions which regulate developmental tuning. First, we will determine whether MHC class II molecules are interacting with the T cell receptor or CD4 to mediate tuning. Then, we will utilize transgenic mice and bone marrow chimeraes to determine which MHC class ll-positive thymic stromal cells-medullary epithelium or hematopoietic APC-mediate CD4 SP maturation. Our data suggest that developmental tuning makes T cell activation more dependent on engagement of CD4 by increasing the allegiance of the tyrosine kinase, Lck, for CD4.
In Specific Aim II, we will take a biochemical approach to determine how the subcellular localization and associations of Lck and CD4 are regulated. Finally, in the third Specific Aim we will ask if developmental tuning is disrupted in two murine models of spontaneous anti-nuclear antibody production and lupus. These experiments will define the mechanisms which regulate a critical thymic pathway that the immune system utilizes to avoid autoreactivity.
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