We have generated for the first time monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) specific for topoisomerase I (topo I) from scleroderma patients, and tight skin mice which develop a scleroderma-like syndrome. The epitope specificity of these antibodies has been determined using a series of fusion proteins containing contiguous portions of topo I polypeptide. Western blot analysis demonstrated that both human and mouse mAbs bound strongly to fusion protein C encompassing the NH2-terminal portion of the enzyme, and weakly to fusion proteins F and G containing regions close to the COOH-terminal end of the molecule. This crossreactivity is related to a tripeptide sequence homology in F, G, and C fusion proteins. It is interesting that a pentapeptide sequence homologous to that in fusion protein C was identified in the UL70 protein of cytomegalovirus, suggesting that activation of autoreactive B cell clones by molecular mimicry is possible. Both human and mouse mAbs exhibiting the same antigen specificity, also share an interspecies cross-reactive idiotope. These data suggest that B cell clones producing antitopo autoantibodies present in human and mouse repertoire are conserved during phylogeny, and are activated during the development of scleroderma disease.

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