Tolerance checkpoint bypass permits emergence of pathogenic T cells to neuromyelitis optica autoantigen aquaporin-4

Sharon A. Sagan, Ryan C. Winger, Andrés Cruz-Herranz, Patricia A. Nelson, Sarah Hagberg, Corey N. Miller, Collin M. Spencer, Peggy P. Ho, Jeffrey L. Bennett, Michael Levy, Marc H. Levin, Alan S. Verkman, Lawrence Steinman, Ari J. Green, Mark S. Anderson, Raymond A. Sobel, Scott S. Zamvil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Aquaporin-4 (AQP4)-specific T cells are expanded in neuromyelitis optica (NMO) patients and exhibit Th17 polarization. However, their pathogenic role in CNS autoimmune inflammatory disease is unclear. Although multiple AQP4 T-cell epitopes have been identified in WT C57BL/6 mice, we observed that neither immunization with those determinants nor transfer of donor T cells targeting them caused CNS autoimmune disease in recipient mice. In contrast, robust proliferation was observed following immunization of AQP4-deficient (AQP4-/-) mice with AQP4 peptide (p) 135-153 or p201-220, peptides predicted to contain I-Ab-restricted T-cell epitopes but not identified in WT mice. In comparison with WT mice, AQP4-/- mice used unique T-cell receptor repertoires for recognition of these two AQP4 epitopes. Donor T cells specific for either determinant from AQP4-/-, but not WT, mice induced paralysis in recipient WT and B-cell-deficient mice. AQP4-specific Th17-polarized cells induced more severe disease than Th1-polarized cells. Clinical signs were associated with opticospinal infiltrates of T cells and monocytes. Fluorescent-labeled donor T cells were detected in CNS lesions. Visual system involvement was evident by changes in optical coherence tomography. Fine mapping of AQP4 p201-220 and p135-153 epitopes identified peptides within p201-220 but not p135-153, which induced clinical disease in 40% of WT mice by direct immunization. Our results provide a foundation to evaluate how AQP4-specific T cells contribute to AQP4-targeted CNS autoimmunity (ATCA) and suggest that pathogenic AQP4-specific T-cell responses are normally restrained by central tolerance, which may be relevant to understanding development of AQP4-reactive T cells in NMO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14781-14786
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number51
StatePublished - Dec 20 2016


  • Aquaporin-4
  • ENMO
  • Neuromyelitis optica
  • T-cell receptor
  • Tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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