Regulatory CD4+ T cells recognize major histocompatibility complex class II molecule-restricted peptide epitopes of apolipoprotein B

Takayuki Kimura, Kouji Kobiyama, Holger Winkels, Kevin Tse, Jacqueline Miller, Melanie Vassallo, Dennis Wolf, Christian Ryden, Marco Orecchioni, Thamotharampillai Dileepan, Marc K. Jenkins, Eddie A. James, William W. Kwok, David B. Hanna, Robert C. Kaplan, Howard D. Strickler, Helen G. Durkin, Seble G. Kassaye, Roksana Karim, Phyllis C. TienAlan L. Landay, Stephen J. Gange, John Sidney, Alessandro Sette, Klaus Ley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: CD4+ T cells play an important role in atherosclerosis, but their antigen specificity is poorly understood. Immunization with apolipoprotein B (ApoB, core protein of low density lipoprotein) is known to be atheroprotective in animal models. Here, we report on a human APOB peptide, p18, that is sequence-identical in mouse ApoB and binds to both mouse and human major histocompatibility complex class II molecules. METHODS: We constructed p18 tetramers to detect human and mouse APOB-specific T cells and assayed their phenotype by flow cytometry including CD4 lineage transcription factors, intracellular cytokines, and T cell receptor activation. Apolipoprotein E-deficient (Apoe−/−) mice were vaccinated with p18 peptide or adjuvants alone, and atherosclerotic burden in the aorta was determined. RESULTS: In human peripheral blood mononuclear cells from donors without cardiovascular disease, p18 specific CD4+ T cells detected by a new human leukocyte antigen-antigen D related-p18 tetramers were mostly Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs). Donors with subclinical cardiovascular disease as detected by carotid artery ultrasound had Tregs coexpressing retinoic acid-related orphan receptor gamma t or T-bet, which were both almost absent in donors without cardiovascular disease. In Apoe−/− mice, immunization with p18 induced Tregs and reduced atherosclerotic lesions. After peptide restimulation, responding CD4+ T cells identified by Nur77-GFP (green fluorescent protein) were highly enriched in Tregs. A new mouse I-Ab-p18 tetramer identified the expansion of p18-specific CD4+ T cells on vaccination, which were enriched for interleukin-10-producing Tregs. CONCLUSIONS: These findings show that APOB p18-specific CD4+ T cells are mainly Tregs in healthy donors, but coexpress other CD4 lineage transcription factors in donors with subclinical cardiovascular disease. This study identifies ApoB peptide 18 as the first Treg epitope in human and mouse atherosclerosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1130-1143
Number of pages14
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grant R01 HL121697, P01 HL136275, project 4, and core E, P01 HL088093 core (to Dr Ley). Dr Kimura was funded by a research fellowship from Uehara Memorial Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Dr Hanna is supported by National Institutes of Health grant K01 HL137557. Dr Kaplan is supported by National Institutes of Health grants 1R01HL126543, 1R01HL083760, and R01-HL-095140.

Funding Information:
Data in this manuscript were collected by the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS). The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). WIHS (Principal Investigators): UAB-MS WIHS (Michael Saag, Mirjam-Colette Kempf, and Deborah Konkle-Parker), U01-AI-103401; Atlanta WIHS (Ighovwerha Ofotokun and Gina Wingood), U01-AI-103408; Bronx WIHS (Kathryn Anastos), U01-AI-035004; Brooklyn WIHS (Howard Minkoff and Deborah Gustafson), U01-AI-031834; Chicago WIHS (Mardge Cohen and Audrey French), U01-AI-034993; Metropolitan Washington WIHS (Seble Kas-saye), U01-AI-034994; Miami WIHS (Margaret Fischl and Lisa Metsch), U01-AI-103397; UNC WIHS (Adaora Adimora), U01-AI-103390; Connie Wofsy Women’s HIV Study, Northern California (Ruth Greenblatt, Bradley Aouizerat, and Phyllis Tien), U01-AI-034989; WIHS Data Management and Analysis Center (Stephen Gange and Elizabeth Golub), U01-AI-042590; Southern California WIHS (Joel Milam), U01-HD-032632 (WIHS I – WIHS IV). The WIHS is funded primarily by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), with additional cofunding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH). Targeted supplemental funding for specific projects is also provided by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), and the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health. WIHS data collection is also supported by UL1-TR000004 (UCSF CTSA) and UL1-TR000454 (Atlanta CTSA).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Heart Association, Inc.


  • Antigen specificity
  • ApoB-100
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Regulatory T cells
  • Vaccination


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