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Prinz, Jörg Christoph (2023): Immunogenic self-peptides - the great unknowns in autoimmunity: Identifying T-cell epitopes driving the autoimmune response in autoimmune diseases. Frontiers in Immunology, 13. ISSN 1664-3224

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HLA-associated autoimmune diseases likely arise from T-cell-mediated autoimmune responses against certain self-peptides from the broad HLA-presented immunopeptidomes. The limited knowledge of the autoimmune target peptides has so far compromised the basic understanding of autoimmune pathogenesis. This is due to the complexity of antigen processing and presentation as well as the polyspecificity of T-cell receptors (TCRs), which pose high methodological challenges on the discovery of immunogenic self-peptides. HLA-class I molecules present peptides to CD8+ T cells primarily derived from cytoplasmic proteins. Therefore, HLA-class I-restricted autoimmune responses should be directed against target cells expressing the corresponding parental protein. In HLA-class II-associated diseases, the origin of immunogenic peptides is not pre-specified, because peptides presented by HLA-class II molecules to CD4+ T cells may originate from both extracellular and cellular self-proteins. The different origins of HLA-class I and class II presented peptides determine the respective strategy for the discovery of immunogenic self-peptides in approaches based on the TCRs isolated from clonally expanded pathogenic T cells. Both involve identifying the respective restricting HLA allele as well as determining the recognition motif of the TCR under investigation by peptide library screening, which is required to search for homologous immunogenic self-peptides. In HLA-class I-associated autoimmune diseases, identification of the target cells allows for defining the restricting HLA allotype from the 6 different HLA-class I alleles of the individual HLA haplotype. It furthermore limits the search for immunogenic self-peptides to the transcriptome or immunopeptidome of the target cells, although neoepitopes generated by peptide splicing or translational errors may complicate identification. In HLA class II-associated autoimmune diseases, the lack of a defined target cell and differential antigen processing in different antigen-presenting cells complicate identification of the HLA restriction of autoreactive TCRs from CD4+ T cells. To avoid that all corresponding HLA-class II allotypes have to be included in the peptide discovery, autoantigens defined by autoantibodies can guide the search for immunogenic self-peptides presented by the respective HLA-class II risk allele. The objective of this article is to highlight important aspects to be considered in the discovery of immunogenic self-peptides in autoimmune diseases.

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