Amino acid homology between the encephalitogenic site of myelin basic protein and virus: mechanism for autoimmunity

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Science  29 Nov 1985:
Vol. 230, Issue 4729, pp. 1043-1045
DOI: 10.1126/science.2414848


Amino acid sequence homology was found between viral and host encephalitogenic protein. Immune responses were then generated in rabbits by using the viral peptide that cross-reacts with the self protein. Mononuclear cell infiltration was observed in the central nervous systems of animals immunized with the viral peptide. Myelin basic protein (MBP) is a host protein whose encephalitogenic site of ten amino acids induces experimental allergic encephalomyelitis. By computer analysis, hepatitis B virus polymerase (HBVP) was found to share six consecutive amino acids with the encephalitogenic site of rabbit MBP. Rabbits given injections of a selected eight- or ten-amino acid peptide from HBVP made antibody that reacted with the predetermined sequences of HBVP and also with native MBP. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from the immunized rabbits proliferated when incubated with either MBP or HBVP. Central nervous system tissue taken from these rabbits had a histologic picture reminiscent of experimental allergic encephalomyelitis. Thus, viral infection may trigger the production of antibodies and mononuclear cells that cross-react with self proteins by a mechanism termed molecular mimicry. Tissue injury from the resultant autoallergic event can take place in the absence of the infectious virus that initiated the immune response.