We have investigated whether sequence 67 to 74 shared by beta chains of rheumatoid arthritis (RA)-associated HLA-DR molecules imparts a specific pattern of peptide binding. The peptide binding specificity of the RA-associated molecules, DRB1*0401, DRB1*0404, and the closely related, RA nonassociated DRB1*0402 was, therefore, determined using designer peptide libraries. The effect of single key residues was tested with site-directed mutants of DRB1*0401. The results have demonstrated striking differences between RA-linked and unlinked DR allotypes in selecting the portion of peptides that interacts with the 67-74 area. Most differences were associated with a single amino acid exchange at position 71 of the DR beta chain, and affected the charge of residues potentially contacting position 71. The observed binding patterns permitted an accurate prediction of natural protein derived peptide sequences that bind selectively to RA-associated DR molecules. Thus, the 67-74 region, in particular position 71, induces changes of binding specificity that correlate with the genetic linkage of RA susceptibility. These findings should facilitate the identification of autoantigenic peptides involved in the pathogenesis of RA.

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