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In autoimmune disorders, inactivation of pathogenic antigen-specific T cells, rather than global immunosuppression, would be highly desirable. One way to achieve this would be to deliver the first antigen-specific signal to the T cell in the absence of the second costimulatory signal. Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a well-characterized autoimmune disease in which T cell-dependent autoantibodies are directed against the acetylcholine receptor (A ChR) at the neuromuscular junction. AChR-specific T cells have been cloned from MG patients, and in this study, we have induced long-lasting tolerance in vitro in one particular clone (PM-A1) with a known peptide epitope (alpha 144-163) and MHC class II restriction (DR4 Dw14.2 or 4.2) by using soluble MHC-class II peptide complexes. Preincubation of PM-A1 T cells with such complexes induced death by apoptosis in < or = 40-50% of the AChR-specific cells. Surviving cells remained refractory to stimulation with AChR-derived synthetic peptides or recombinant polypeptides for < or = 38 d after complex treatment. These effects were highly specific, dose-dependent and required > 2 h preincubation. The T cells could be protected from the tolerizing effects of complex by coincubation with DR-matched or -mismatched antigen-presenting cells. This work shows that antigen-specific T cells can be selectively killed or anergized using soluble MHC class II: peptide complexes. Such an antigen-specific therapy offers a rational approach to the immunotherapy of autoimmune or allergic disease in vivo.

Original publication




Journal article


J Clin Invest

Publication Date





1361 - 1369


Adolescent, Antigen-Presenting Cells, Apoptosis, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Epitopes, HLA-DR Antigens, Humans, Immune Tolerance, Myasthenia Gravis, Receptors, Cholinergic