The Journal of experimental medicine

Self-reactive B cells are not eliminated or inactivated by autoantigen expressed on thyroid epithelial cells.

PMID 9396769


Graves' Disease results from the production of autoantibodies against receptors for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) on thyroid epithelial cells, and represents the prototype for numerous autoimmune diseases caused by autoantibodies that bind to organ-specific cell membrane antigens. To study how humoral tolerance is normally maintained to organ-specific membrane antigens, transgenic mice were generated selectively expressing membrane-bound hen egg lysozyme (mHEL) on the thyroid epithelium. In contrast to the deletion of autoreactive B cells triggered by systemic mHEL (Hartley, S.B., J. Crosbie, R. Brink, A.B. Kantor, A. Basten, and C.C. Goodnow. 1991. Nature. 353:765-769), selective expression of mHEL autoantigen on thyroid cells did not trigger elimination or inactivation of circulating HEL-reactive B cells. These results provide evidence that tolerance is not actively acquired to organ-specific antigens in the preimmune B cell repertoire, underscoring the importance of maintaining tolerance to such antigens by other mechanisms. The role of an intact endothelial barrier in sequestering organ-specific antigens from circulating preimmune B cells is discussed.