Self-proteins are regularly processed for presentation to autoreactive T cells in association with both class I and class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. The presentation of self-peptides plays a crucial role in the acquisition of T cell repertoire during thymic selection. We previously reported that the self-MHC class I peptide Ld 61-80 was immunogenic in syngeneic B10.A mice (H-2a). We showed that despite its high affinity for self-MHC class II molecules, Ld 61-80 peptide failed to induce elimination of autoreactive CD4+ T cells, presumably due to incomplete processing and presentation in the B10.A's developing thymus (cryptic-self peptide). In this report, we showed that the cryptic phenotype was not an intrinsic property of the self-peptide Ld 61-80 since it was found to be naturally presented and subsequently tolerogenic in BALB/c mice (H-2d) (dominant self-peptide). In addition, the self-peptide Ld 61-80 was found to be immunogenic in different H-2a mice while it was invariably tolerogenic in H-2d mice regardless of their background genes. We observed that Ld 61-80 bound equally well to H-2d and H-2k MHC class II molecules. Also, no correlation was found between the quantity of self-Ld protein and the tolerogenicity of Ld 61-80. Surprisingly, Ld 61-80 was not naturally presented in (H-2d x H-2a) F1 mice, indicating that the H-2a MHC locus contained a gene that impaired the presentation of the self-peptide. Analyses of T cell responses to the self-peptide in several H-2 recombinant mice revealed that the presentation of Ld 61-80 was controlled by genes that mapped to a 170-kb portion of the MHC class II region. This study shows that (a) endogenously processed self-peptides presented by MHC class II molecules are involved in shaping the CD4+ T cell repertoire in the thymus; (b) The selection of self-peptides for presentation by MHC class II molecules to nascent autoreactive T cells is influenced by nonstructural MHC genes that map to a 170-kb portion of the MHC class II region; and (c) the MHC locus of H-2a mice encodes factors that prevent or abrogate the presentation by MHC class II molecules of the self-peptide Ld 61-80. These findings may have important implications for understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in T cell repertoire acquisition and self-tolerance induction.

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