Cryptic Self Activation

In this hypothetical scenario, it is assumed that each self protein has several dominant epitopes that serve as self markers. During T-cell maturation, T cells reacting with these markers are negatively selected and destroyed or become tolerant of "self' markers. Conversely, there are many minor (subdominant) epitopes constituting "cryptic self' that can induce an immune response. This is possible because tolerance directed toward the "cryptic self' markers was not established during development of the immune system. An immune response to these markers is usually not undertaken because of ineffective antigen processing or hindered access to the MHC that prevents the initiation of an immune response.

Chemical exposure or viral infections may provide the initiating event for presentation of "cryptic" self antigens. Viral infections increase the presentation ofthe subdominant maker by molecular mimicry (Theofilopoulos, 1995). Chemical exposure may also result in presentation to T cells by creating altered "cryptic" antigens with high affinity for MHC molecules. Antinucleolar antibodies induced by exposure to HgCl2 are the result of presentation of "cryptic" self peptides to Th2 and B cells.

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