We have previously reported that collagen-induced arthritis can be suppressed by intravenous injection of native type II (CII) but not type I collagen. We have now identified denatured fragments of CII capable of suppressing collagen-induced arthritis and inducing tolerance. Purified CII was cleaved with cyanogen bromide (CB), and the major resulting peptides were isolated. Female DBA/1 mice were administered OVA, native CII, or one of the CB peptides, intravenously, before immunization with native CII, 6 wk after immunization, mice tolerized with CII and CB11 had a markedly lower incidence of arthritis compared with controls. There was a correlation between the overall antibody response and the incidence of arthritis. In addition, animals tolerized with either CII or CB11 had a decreased antibody response not only to CII, but also to each of the other CB peptides tested. To identify the epitope involved in suppression of arthritis, five synthetic peptides, 21-26 amino acids in length, corresponding to selected regions of CB11, were generated. Each of the peptides was injected intravenously into mice before immunization. Only one of these, CB11 122-147, was capable of suppressing arthritis. In addition, mice given the synthetic peptide CB11 122-147 neonatally were suppressed for arthritis and antibody responsiveness when immunized with CII at 8 wk of age. Thus, we have identified CB11 122-147 as an epitope of CII important in induction of tolerance and suppression of disease. Further experiments narrowing down the pivotal amino acids for the immunogenicity of this epitope and the role this epitope plays in induction and regulation of disease will enhance our understanding of how the immune response to collagen affects autoimmune arthritis.

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