Pemphigus vulgaris (PV) is a severe autoimmune disease involving blistering of the skin and mucous membranes. It is caused by autoantibodies against desmoglein 3 (Dsg3), an adhesion molecule critical for maintaining epithelial integrity in the skin, oral mucosa, and esophagus. Knowing the antigen targeted by the autoantibodies renders PV a valuable model of autoimmunity. Recently, a role for Dsg3-specific CD4+ T helper cells in autoantibody production was demonstrated in a mouse model of PV, but whether these cells exert cytotoxicity in the tissues is unclear. Here, we analyzed 3 Dsg3-specific TCRs using transgenic mice and retrovirus induction. Dsg3-specific transgenic (Dsg3H1) T cells underwent deletion in the presence of Dsg3 in vivo. Dsg3H1 T cells that developed in the absence of Dsg3 elicited a severe pemphigus-like phenotype when cotransferred into immunodeficient mice with B cells from Dsg3-/- mice. Strikingly, in addition to humoral responses, T cell infiltration of Dsg3-expressing tissues led to interface dermatitis, a distinct form of T cell-mediated autoimmunity that causes keratinocyte apoptosis and is seen in various inflammatory/autoimmune skin diseases, including paraneoplastic pemphigus. The use of retrovirally generated Dsg3-specific T cells revealed that interface dermatitis occurred in an IFN-γ- and TCR avidity-dependent manner. This model of autoimmunity demonstrates that T cells specific for a physiological skin-associated autoantigen are capable of inducing interface dermatitis and should provide a valuable tool for further exploring the immunopathophysiology of T cell-mediated skin diseases.
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