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Keywords:

  • oral tolerization;
  • peptide;
  • uveitis;
  • Behcet's disease

SUMMARY

Behcet's disease (BD) specific peptide (p336–351) was identified within the human 60 kD heat shock protein (HSP60). Oral p336–351 induced uveitis in rats which was prevented by oral tolerization with the peptide linked to recombinant cholera toxin B subunit (CTB). This strategy was adopted in a phase I/II clinical trial by oral administration of p336–351-CTB, 3 times weekly, followed by gradual withdrawal of all immunosuppressive drugs used to control the disease in 8 patients with BD. The patients were monitored by clinical and ophthalmological examination, as well as extensive immunological investigations. Oral administration of p336–351-CTB had no adverse effect and withdrawal of the immunosuppressive drugs showed no relapse of uveitis in 5 of 8 patients or 5 of 6 selected patients who were free of disease activity prior to initiating the tolerization regimen. After tolerization was discontinued, 3 of 5 patients remained free of relapsing uveitis for 10–18 months after cessation of all treatment. Control of uveitis and extra-ocular manifestations of BD was associated with a lack of peptide-specific CD4+ T cell proliferation, a decrease in expression of TH1 type cells (CCR5, CXCR3), IFN-γ and TNF-α production, CCR7+ T cells and costimulatory molecules (CD40 and CD28), as compared with an increase in these parameters in patients in whom uveitis had relapsed. The efficacy of oral peptide-CTB tolerization will need to be confirmed in a phase III trial, but this novel strategy in humans might be applicable generally to autoimmune diseases in which specific antigens have been identified.