Background The responses of mice to the mite allergen Der p 1 have been used to study the mechanisms of allergic sensitization and the development of new types of immunotherapy. Many of the studies require a knowledge of the T cell epitopes, and because Der p 1 is polymorphic, the effect of natural amino acid substitution in the allergen. The intranasal administration of peptides containing T cell epitopes can induce a mucosal tolerance but it is not known if the major activity is limited to stimulatory peptides and if, as found for autoimmunity, some epitopes are not inhibitory.
Objective To determine and compare the sequences of Der p 1 which contain stimulatory epitopes for the high responding H-2b and H-2q mice and the sequences which induce tolerance by intranasal administration of peptides.
Methods T cell responses of mice immunized with Der p 1 were measured by in vitro T cell stimulation assays so an extensive study of epitope recognition and intranasal tolerance could be made. Synthetic peptides were used to examine the stimulatory and inhibitory ability of all Der p 1 sequences and to map the major H-2b epitope in detail. This included the effect of the common polymorphic amino acid 124 substitution found within this epitope.
Results Three and two regions, respectively, were found to contain stimulatory T cell epitopes for H-2b and H-2q mice. The peptides in these regions were also the most active at inducing intranasal tolerance for the responding haplotype. The correspondence between inhibitory and stimulatory peptides was maintained for the fine mapping of the major H-2b epitope. This was found about a core region of 118–126 which was overlapping but separate to a consensus sequence for the binding of endogeneous peptides. Peptides with alanine at the naturally polymorphic residue 124 stimulated and inhibited responses to Der p 1 more effectively, while peptides with the valine 124 variant were immunogenic but poorly cross-reactive.
Conclusions The intranasal administration of peptides representing each of five epitopes recognized by two strains of mice were able to induce mucosal tolerance and the major tolerizing activity was limited to these epitopes. The position of the core major epitope for C57 mice, which differs from a previously predicted epitope, and its specificity for the natural alanine 124 variant is described.