We investigated the underlying mechanisms of systemic autoimmune disease in MRL-+/+, (NZB X NZW)F1, and (NZB X SWR)F1 mice, since these strains develop glomerulonephritis without the superimposition of any secondary lupus-accelerating genes. All three strains manifested a common immunoregulatory defect specific for the production of pathogenic anti-DNA autoantibodies that are of IgG class and cationic in charge. At or just before the age they began to develop lupus nephritis, spleen cells of the mice contained a subpopulation of Th cells that selectively induced their B cells in vitro to produce highly cationic IgG autoantibodies to both single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) and double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). By contrast, T cells from younger preautoimmune mice were incapable of providing this help. Moreover, only B cells of the older lupus mice could be induced to secrete cationic anti-DNA antibodies of IgG class. B cells of young lupus mice could not produce the cationic autoantibodies even with the help of T cells from the older mice, nor upon stimulation with mitogens. In the older lupus mice we found two sets of Th cells that spontaneously induced the cationic shift in autoantibodies; one set belonged to the classical Th category with L3T4+,Lyt-2- phenotype, whereas the other surprisingly belonged to a double-negative (L3T4-,Lyt-2-), Lyt-1+ subpopulation. The latter set of unusual Th cells were unexpected in these lupus mice since they lacked the lpr (lympho-proliferation) gene. Thus three apparently different murine models of systemic lupus erythematosus possess a common underlying mechanism specific for the spontaneous production of pathogenic anti-DNA autoantibodies.

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