We have studied the mouse lysozyme (ML) peptide-specific T cell repertoire in mice of five different major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II haplotypes. 14 ML peptides were tested in a lymph node T cell proliferation assay. Upon immunization of diverse mouse strains with native ML, there was no response to any of the ML peptides tested. However, nine peptides were immunogenic, although there was no consistent pattern of reactivity toward any peptide among these strains. Thus, an autoreactive T cell repertoire directed against cryptic self(ML)-determinants exists, and it is different in mice of different MHC haplotypes. Moreover, our results demonstrate that crypticity is MHC associated and not merely a structural attribute of the determinant. On comparison of the pattern of response of various peptides of ML and that of its foreign homologue, hen eggwhite lysozyme (HEL) in H-2k, H-2b, and H-2d strains of mice, a striking correlation was evident. The stretches of amino acid sequences of determinants within HEL that were dominant in each of these three strains, almost exactly overlapped in position with those of the cryptic ML determinants against which self-reactivity was demonstrated in the same strain. These results demonstrate that the dominance-crypticity relationship between HEL and ML resulting from differential processing of these two proteins is critical in determining the response to HEL rather than the degree of sequence difference between them. These observations have important implications in the shaping of the T cell repertoire for foreign proteins and in the pathogenesis of autoimmunity.

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