PloS one

'Multi-epitope-targeted' immune-specific therapy for a multiple sclerosis-like disease via engineered multi-epitope protein is superior to peptides.

PMID 22140475


Antigen-induced peripheral tolerance is potentially one of the most efficient and specific therapeutic approaches for autoimmune diseases. Although highly effective in animal models, antigen-based strategies have not yet been translated into practicable human therapy, and several clinical trials using a single antigen or peptidic-epitope in multiple sclerosis (MS) yielded disappointing results. In these clinical trials, however, the apparent complexity and dynamics of the pathogenic autoimmunity associated with MS, which result from the multiplicity of potential target antigens and "epitope spread", have not been sufficiently considered. Thus, targeting pathogenic T-cells reactive against a single antigen/epitope is unlikely to be sufficient; to be effective, immunospecific therapy to MS should logically neutralize concomitantly T-cells reactive against as many major target antigens/epitopes as possible. We investigated such "multi-epitope-targeting" approach in murine experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) associated with a single ("classical") or multiple ("complex") anti-myelin autoreactivities, using cocktail of different encephalitogenic peptides vis-a-vis artificial multi-epitope-protein (designated Y-MSPc) encompassing rationally selected MS-relevant epitopes of five major myelin antigens, as "multi-epitope-targeting" agents. Y-MSPc was superior to peptide(s) in concomitantly downregulating pathogenic T-cells reactive against multiple myelin antigens/epitopes, via inducing more effective, longer lasting peripheral regulatory mechanisms (cytokine shift, anergy, and Foxp3+ CTLA4+ regulatory T-cells). Y-MSPc was also consistently more effective than the disease-inducing single peptide or peptide cocktail, not only in suppressing the development of "classical" or "complex EAE" or ameliorating ongoing disease, but most importantly, in reversing chronic EAE. Overall, our data emphasize that a "multi-epitope-targeting" strategy is required for effective immune-specific therapy of organ-specific autoimmune diseases associated with complex and dynamic pathogenic autoimmunity, such as MS; our data further demonstrate that the "multi-epitope-targeting" approach to therapy is optimized through specifically designed multi-epitope-proteins, rather than myelin peptide cocktails, as "multi-epitope-targeting" agents. Such artificial multi-epitope proteins can be tailored to other organ-specific autoimmune diseases.