Infection of SJL mice with wild-type BeAn strain of Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus (TMEV) leads to CD4+ T cell-mediated CNS demyelination characterized by the development of anti-myelin epitope autoimmune responses via epitope spreading during the chronic stage of disease. To examine the feasibility of virus-encoded mimic epitopes to initiate CNS autoimmunity, we recently developed a molecular mimicry model of virus-induced demyelinating disease wherein a non-pathogenic variant strain of TMEV was engineered to encode a 30-mer peptide encompassing the immunodominant myelin proteolipid protein, PLP139-151, epitope. SJL mice infected intracerebrally with TMEV encoding either the native PLP139-151 determinant or various peptide mimics of the epitope develop an early onset demyelinating disease mediated by activated PLP139-151-specific Th1 cells. The autoimmune nature of this early-onset demyelinating disease is shown by the fact that induction of tolerance to the PLP139-151 peptide prevents clinical disease and associated PLP139-151-specific T cell responses without affecting T cell reactivity to virus epitopes. Most significantly, TMEV encoding a molecular mimic peptide derived from the Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, homologous at only six out of thirteen of the core amino acids, led to CNS disease. These studies provide conclusive evidence that virus-induced myelin-specific autoreactive T cells can be induced by molecular mimicry and provide a useful model to study the disease inducing ability of viruses encoding human-disease-related mimicry peptides.
- Epitope spreading
- Molecular mimicry
- Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus