Many autoimmune diseases are characterized by autoantibody reactivities to multiple cellular antigens. Autoantigens are commonly defined as targets of the autoimmune B cell response, but the role, if any, of these autoantigens in T cell-mediated autoimmune diseases is generally unknown. Murine experimental autoimmune gastritis is a CD4+ T cell-mediated organ-specific autoimmune disease induced by neonatal thymectomy of BALB/c mice. The murine disease is similar to human autoimmune gastritis and pernicious anemia, and is characterized by parietal and chief cell loss, submucosal mononuclear cell infiltrates, and autoantibodies to the alpha and beta subunits of the gastric H/K ATPase. However, the specificity of T cells that cause the disease is not known. To examine the role of the H/K ATPase in this T cell-mediated disease, transgenic mice were generated that express the beta subunit of the H/K ATPase under the control of the major histocompatibility complex class II I-Ek alpha promoter. We show that transgenic expression of the gastric H/K ATPase beta subunit specifically prevents the onset of autoimmune gastritis after neonatal thymectomy. In addition, thymocyte transfer experiments suggest that tolerance of pathogenic autoreactive T cells is induced within the thymus of the transgenic mice. We conclude that the beta subunit of the gastric H/K ATPase is a major T cell target in autoimmune gastritis and that thymic expression of a single autoantigen can abrogate an autoimmune response to multiple autoantigens.

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