Identification of T-cell epitopes on the Rhesus polypeptides in autoimmune hemolytic anemia

Robert Norman Barker, Andrew Michael Hall, G R Standen, Jeff Jones, C J Elson

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67 Citations (Scopus)


We have shown previously that the Rhesus (Rh) polypeptides are the commonest targets for pathogenic anti-red blood cell (RBC) autoantibodies in patients with autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA). The aim of the current work was to determine whether activated T cells from such patients also mount recall responses to epitopes on these proteins. Two panels of overlapping 15-mer peptides, corresponding to the sequences of the 30-kD Rh proteins associated with expression of the D and Cc/Ee blood group antigens, were synthesized and screened for the ability to stimulate the in vitro proliferation of mononuclear cells from the peripheral blood or spleen of nine AIHA cases. Culture conditions were chosen that favor recall proliferation by previously activated T cells, rather than primary responses. In seven of the patients, including all four cases with autoantibody to the Rh proteins, two or more peptides elicited proliferation, but cells from eight of nine patients with other anemias and seven of nine healthy donors failed to respond to the panels. Multiple peptides were also stimulatory in two positive control donors who had been alloimmunized with Rh D-positive RBCs. Six different profiles of peptides elicited responses in the AIHA patients, and this variation may reflect the different HLA types in the group. Stimulatory peptides were identified throughout domains shared between, or specific to, each of the related 30-kD Rh proteins, but T cells that responded to nonconserved regions did not cross-react with the alternative sequences. Anti-major histocompatibility complex class II antibodies blocked the responses and depletion experiments confirmed that the proliferating mononuclear cells were T cells. Notably, splenic T cells that proliferated against multiple Rh peptides also responded to intact RBCs. We propose that pathogenic autoantibody production in many cases of AIHA is driven by the activation of T-helper cells specific for previously cryptic epitopes on the Rh proteins.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2701-2715
Number of pages15
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 1997


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Anemia
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Autoimmune
  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epitopes
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Rh Isoimmunization
  • Rh-Hr Blood-Group System
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer


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