In pemphigus foliaceus (PF), autoantibodies against desmoglein 1 (Dsg1) cause blisters. Using Ab phage display, we have cloned mAbs from a PF patient. These mAbs, like those from a previous patient, were directed against mature Dsg1 (matDsg1) on the cell surface of keratinocytes and precursor Dsg1 (preDsg1) in the cytoplasm. To determine whether individuals without pemphigus have B cell tolerance to Dsg1, we cloned mAbs from two patients with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and a healthy person. We found mAbs against preDsg1, but not matDsg1. All but 1 of the 23 anti-preDsg1 mAbs from PF patients and those without PF used the VH3-09 (or closely related VH3-20) H chain gene, whereas no PF anti-matDsg1 used these genes. VH cDNA encoding anti-preDsg1 had significantly fewer somatic mutations than did anti-matDsg1 cDNA, consistent with chronic Ag-driven hypermutation of the latter compared with the former. These data indicate that individuals without PF do not have B cell tolerance to preDsg1 and that loss of tolerance to matDsg1 is not due to epitope shifting of anti-preDsg1 B cells (because of different VH gene usage). However, presentation of peptides from Dsg1 by preDsg1-specific B cells may be one step in developing autoimmunity in PF.
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