Autoimmune thyroid diseases (AITD) are highly prevalent. Abundant data demonstrate a major role for genetic factors in the pathogenesis of AITD. Recently, we and others have demonstrated that the presence of arginine at position 74 of the HLA-DR31 chain (DRp1-Arg74), within the peptide binding pocket, was strongly associated with AITD. We also identified AITD-associated missense SNPs in the thyroglobulin (Tg) gene. One of those Tg SNPs showed statistical evidence for interaction with the DR(31-Arg74 variant of HLA- DR, resulting in an odds ratio of>10 for AITD. These findings suggest that molecular interactions between HLA-DR pocket variants and Tg may be central to the development of AITD. Thus, we hypothesize that certain DR pocket variants cause susceptibility or resistance to AITD by influencing the presentation of Tg peptides to T cells by antigen presenting cells (APC's). The goals of our studies are to analyze the mechanisms by which interactions between Tg peptides and specific HLA-DR pocket variants confer susceptibility to, or protection from, AITD, and to use this knowledge to develop therapies for AITD.
Our specific aims are: (1) To identify and characterize hTg peptides that bind to the disease associated HLA-DR pocket variant (DR31-Arg74) using molecular modeling, biochemical, and mass spectrometry studies. (2) To test in-vivo the presentation of hTg peptides bound by Arg74+ APC's to T-cells in an experimental autoimmune thyroiditis (EAT) model (in DR3 transgenic mice), and in AITD patients. (3) To develop, synthesize, and test altered peptide ligands that can block the development of EAT.In summary, we propose a novel multi-disciplinary approach combining computational modeling experiments with biochemical, mass spectrometry, cell culture, and in-vivo studies to dissect the interactions between hTg peptides and HLA-DR in the induction of autoimmune thyroiditis. We have the capacity and expertise to achieve these goals, expertise gained from our studies on the immunogenetics of AITD. We have already identified novel genetic variants in (e.g., DRp1-Arg74, CD40 Kozak SNP) and mechanisms leading to the development of AITD. The proposed studies will lead to a better understanding of the basic etiology of autoimmune thyroiditis. This may facilitate the development of knowledge-based treatment and prevention approaches for autoimmune thyroiditis and possibly for other autoimmune diseases that share similar pathogenetic mechanisms.
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