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  Pharmaceutical Patents  


Title:  DNA vaccination for treatment of multiple sclerosis and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus
United States Patent: 
August 25, 2009

Steinman; Lawrence (Palo Alto, CA), Ruiz; Pedro (Menlo Park, CA), Garren; Hideki (Palo Alto, CA)
The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University (Palo Alto, CA)
Appl. No.: 
November 28, 2005


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A pro-inflammatory T cell response is specifically suppressed by the injection into a recipient of DNA encoding an autoantigen associated with autoimmune disease. The recipient may be further treating by co-vaccination with a DNA encoding a Th2 cytokine, particularly encoding IL4. In response to the vaccination, the proliferation of autoantigen-reactive T cells and the secretion of Th1 cytokines, including IL-2, IFN-.gamma. and IL-15, are reduced.

Description of the Invention


Methods are provided for the suppression of pro-inflammatory T cell responses in autoimmune disease. A mammalian host is vaccinated with a DNA expression vector encoding an autoantigen fragment. In response to the vaccination, pathogenic T cell proliferation is inhibited and production of Th1 cytokines, including IL-2, IL-10, IFN-.gamma. and IL-15 is reduced. In one embodiment of the invention, a nucleic acid encoding a Th2 cytokine is co-administered with the autoantigen coding sequence. The use of IL-4 coding sequences is of particular interest. Suppressive vaccination diminishes T cell pro-inflammatory responses in a specific, targeted manner. Conditions that benefit from this treatment include autoimmune diseases, tissue transplantation and other diseases associated with inflammation.


The subject methods provide a means for therapeutic treatment and investigation of inflammation, through the suppression of pathogenic antigen-specific T-cell responses. A DNA expression cassette is injected into host tissue, for example muscle or skin. The vector comprises a DNA sequence encoding at least a portion of an autoantigen. The vaccination may also include DNA sequences encoding a Th2 cytokine, e.g. IL-4. In response to this vaccination, a suppressive response is evoked. Antigen-specific T cell proliferation is inhibited and Th1 cytokine production is reduced.

Without limiting the scope of the invention, it is believed that the methods described herein are a novel method of protective immunity, which combines the effects of DNA vaccination and local gene delivery. After DNA vaccination with a autoantigen epitope alone, T cells are anergic. This may be in part due to the biological effects of DNA motifs like unmethylated CpG dinucleotides in particular base contexts (CpG-S motifs) (Krieg et al. (1998) Trends in Microbiol. 6:23-27). The addition of IL4 as a DNA co-vaccine rescues the anergy imposed by the autoantigen DNA vaccine, and drives the response to a Th2 phenotype. STAT6 is activated in draining lymph node cells by the IL4 DNA vaccine. It is believed that IL4 is produced from the DNA vaccine administered and that it interacts with IL4 receptor on lymph node cells, which in turn causes the activation of STAT6 downstream of the receptor. Immunization against the antigens that trigger those autoimmune diseases caused by Th1 autoreactive cells, diseases such as multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, would be conditions where co-vaccination with DNA encoding IL-4 might prove beneficial

Autbantigens, as used herein, are endogenous proteins or fragments thereof that elicit a pathogenic immune response. Of particular interest are autoantigens that induce a T cell mediated inflammatory pathogenic response. Suppressive vaccination with the relevant target autoantigen finds use in the treatment of autoimmune diseases characterized by the involvement of pro-inflammatory T cells, such as multiple sclerosis, experimental autoimmune encephalitis, rheumatoid arthritis and insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Animal models, particularly small mammals, e.g. murine, lagomorpha, etc. are of interest for experimental investigations.

The subject methods of suppressive immunization are used for prophylactic or therapeutic purposes. Use used herein, the term "treating" is used to refer to both prevention of disease, and treatment of pre-existing conditions. The prevention of autoimmune disease involving the vaccine autoantigen (VA), is accomplished by administration of the vaccine prior to development of overt disease. The treatment of ongoing disease, where the suppressive vaccination stabilizes or improves the clinical symptoms of the patient, is of particular interest. Such treatment is desirably performed prior to complete loss of function in the affected tissues.

Autoantigens known to be associated with disease include myelin proteins with demyelinating diseases, e.g. multiple sclerosis and experimental autoimmune myelitis; collagens and rheumatoid arthritis; insulin, proinsulin, glutamic acid decarboxylase 65 (GAD65); islet cell antigen (ICA512; ICA12) with insulin dependent diabetes. An association of GAD epitopes with diabetes is described in a number of publications, including U.S. Pat. No. 5,212,447; and European patent application no. 94.927940.0. An association of insulin epitopes with autoimmune insulitis is described in Griffin et al. (1995) Am. J. Pathol. 147:845-857. Rudy et al. (1995) Mol. Med. 1:625-633 disclose an epitope that is similar in GAD and proinsulin.

The protein components of myelin proteins, including myelin basic protein (MBP), proteolipid protein (PLP), myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG) and myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG), are of particular interest for use as immunogens of the invention. The suppression of T cell responsiveness to these antigens is used to prevent or treat demyelinating diseases.

In one embodiment of the invention, the vaccine autoantigen is proteolipid. For convenience, a reference sequence of human PLP is provided as SEQ ID NO:1; and human myelin basic protein as SEQ ID NO:3. Proteolipid is a major constituent of myelin, and is known to be involved in demyelinating diseases (see, for example Greer et al. (1992) J. Immunol. 149:783-788 and Nicholson (1997) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94:9279-9284).

The integral membrane protein PLP is a dominant autoantigen of myelin. Determinants of PLP antigenicity have been identified in several mouse strains, and include residues 139-151 (Tuohy et al. (1989) J. Immunol. 142:1523-1527), 103-116 (Tuohy et al., (1988) J. Immunol. 141:1126-1130], 215-232 (Endoh et al. (1990) Int. Arch. Allergy Appl. Immunol. 92:433-438), 43-64 (Whitham et al., (1991) J. Immunol. 147:3803-3808) and 178-191 (Greer, et al. (1992) J. Immunol. 149:783-788). Immunization with native PLP or with synthetic peptides corresponding to PLP epitopes induces EAE. Analogues of PLP peptides generated by amino acid substitution can prevent EAE induction and progression (Kuchroo et al. (1994) J. Immunol. 153:3326-3336, Nicholson et al. (1997) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94:9279-9284).

MBP is an extrinsic myelin protein that has been studied extensively. At least 26 MBP epitopes have been reported (Meinl et al. (1993) J. Clin. Invest. 92:2633-2643). Of particular interest for use in the present invention are residues 1-11, 59-76 and 87-99. Analogues of MBP peptides generated by truncation have been shown to reverse EAE (Karin et al., (1998) J. Immunol. 160:5188-5194). DNA encoding polypeptide fragments may comprise coding sequences for immunogenic epitopes, e.g. myelin basic protein p84-102, more particularly myelin basic protein p87-99, (SEQ ID NO:11) VHFFKNIVTPRTP (p87-99), or even the truncated 7-mer peptide (SEQ ID NO:12) FKNIVTP. The sequences of myelin basic protein exon 2, including the immunodominant epitope bordered by amino acids 59-85, are also of interest. For examples, see Sakai et al. (1988) J Neuroimmunol 19:21-32; Baxevanis et al (1989) J Neuroimmunol 22:23-30; Ota et al (1990) Nature 346:183-187; Martin et al (1992) J. Immunol. 148:1350-1366, Valli et al (1993) J Clin Inv 91:616. The immunodominant MBP(84-102) peptide has been found to bind with high affinity to DRB1*1501 and DRB5*0101 molecules of the disease-associated DR2 haplotype. Overlapping but distinct peptide segments were important for binding to these molecules; hydrophobic residues (Val189 and Phe92) in the MBP (88-95) segment for peptide binding to DRB1*1501 molecules; hydrophobic and charged residues (Phe92, Lys93) in the MBP (89-101/102) sequence contributed to DRB5*0101 binding.

The transmembrane glycoprotein MOG is a minor component of myelin that has been shown to induce EAE. Immunodominant MOG epitopes that have been identified in several mouse strains include residues 1-22, 35-55, 64-96 (deRosbo et al. (1998) J. Autoimmunity 11:287-299, deRosbo et al. (1995) Eur J. Immunol. 25:985-993) and 41-60 (Leadbetter et al. (1998) J Immunol 161:504-512).

For the treatment of diabetes, immunogens of interest include IA-2; IA-2beta; GAD; insulin; proinsulin; HSP; glima 38; ICA69; and p52. For example, insulin (which sequence is publicly available, for example from Sures et al. (1980) Science 208:57-59; Bell et al. (1979) Nature 282:525-527; and Bell et al. (1980) Nature 284:26-32) has been found to have immunodominant epitopes in the B chain, e.g. residues 9-23; as well as in the pre-proinsulin leader sequence. Other autoantigens associated with diabetes include glutamic acid decarboxylase 65 (GAD65), e.g. residues 206-220; 221-235, 286-300; 456-470; and peptides including residues p247, p509; p524 (Kauffman et al. (1993) Nature 366:69-72).

A DNA expression cassette encoding at least a portion of an autoantigen, usually as part of a vector, is introduced into tissue of the vaccine recipient. The minigene is expressed in the tissue, and the encoded polypeptide acts as an immunogen, or antigen. The autoantigen sequence may be from any mammalian or avian species, e.g. primate sp., particularly humans; rodents, including mice, rats and hamsters; rabbits; equines, bovines, canines, felines; etc. Of particular interest are the human and mouse autoantigen segments. Generally, the sequence will have the same species of origin as the animal host, preferably it will be autologous

The subject DNA expression cassette will comprise most or all of the sequence encoding an autoantigen fragment, as defined by Kabat et al., supra. The coding sequence may be truncated at the 5' or 3' terminus and may be a fragment of the complete polypeptide sequence. In one embodiment of the invention, the sequence encodes a peptide fragment that is known to be presented to pathogenic T cells, for example peptides presented by Class II MHC molecules of the host. Such peptides have been described in the literature, and are typically of about 8 to about 30 amino acids in length.

The vaccine may be formulated with one or a cocktail of autoantigen sequences. While it has been found that a single sequence is capable of suppressing a response to multiple epitopes, it may be desirable in some cases to include multiple sequences, where each encodes a different epitope. For example, see Leadbetter et al. (1998) J. Immunol. 161:504-512. A formulation comprised of multiple coding sequences of distinct PLP epitopes may be used to induce a more potent and/or sustained suppressive response. By specifically targeting multiple autoreactive T cell populations, such a formulation may slow or prevent the development of autoantigen resistance. The use of PLP sequences in combination with other myelin protein epitopes may effectively suppress the repertoire of myelin-reactive T cells. Similar autoantigen combinations to suppress autoimmune response, e.g., glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and pancreatic islet cell autoantigen for the treatment of insulin dependent diabetes, are contemplated.

In addition to the specific epitopes and polypeptides of autoantigens, the immune response may be enhanced by the inclusion of CpG sequences, as described by Krieg et al. (1998) Trends Microbiol. 6:23-27, and helper sequence, King et al. (1998) Nat. Med. 4:1281-1286. Biological effects of DNA motifs like unmethylated CpG dinucleotides in particular base contexts (CPG-S motifs) may modulate innate immune responses when injected to animals. Low numbers of CpG motifs, or the presence of imperfect motifs, may act in the development of anergy by immunization with autoantigens.

The polypeptide coding sequence, which may be autoantigen or cytokine, sequences are inserted into an appropriate expression cassette. The expression construct is prepared in conventional ways. The cassette will have the appropriate transcriptional and translational regulatory sequences for expression of the sequence in the vaccine recipient cells. The cassette will generally be a part of a vector, which contains a suitable origin of replication, and such genes encoding selectable markers as may be required for growth, amplification and manipulation of the vector, prior to its introduction into the recipient. Suitable vectors include plasmids, YACs, BACs, bacteriophage, retrovirus, and the like. Conveniently, the expression vector will be a plasmid. Prior to vaccination, the cassette may be isolated from vector sequences by cleavage, amplification, etc. as known in the art. For injection, the DNA may be supercoiled or linear, preferably supercoiled. The cassette may be maintained in the host cell for extended periods of time, or may be transient, generally transient. Stable maintenance is achieved by the inclusion of sequences that provide for integration and/or maintenance, e.g. retroviral vectors, EBV vectors and the like.

The expression cassette will generally employ an exogenous transcriptional initiation region, i.e. a promoter other than the promoter which is associated with the T cell receptor in the normally occurring chromosome. The promoter is functional in host cells, particularly host cells targeted by the cassette. The promoter may be introduced by recombinant methods in vitro, or as the result of homologous integration of the sequence by a suitable host cell. The promoter is operably linked to the coding sequence of the autoantigen to produce a translatable mRNA transcript. Expression vectors conveniently will have restriction sites located near the promoter sequence to facilitate the insertion of autoantigen sequences.

Expression cassettes are prepared comprising a transcription initiation region, which may be constitutive or inducible, the gene encoding the autoantigen sequence, and a transcriptional termination region. The expression cassettes may be introduced into a variety of vectors. Promoters of interest may be inducible or constitutive, usually constitutive, and will provide for high levels of transcription in the vaccine recipient cells. The promoter may be active only in the recipient cell type, or may be broadly active in many different cell types. Many strong promoters for mammalian cells are known in the art, including the .beta.-actin promoter, SV40 early and late promoters, immunoglobulin promoter, human cytomegalovirus promoter, retroviral LTRs, etc. The promoters may or may not be associated with enhancers, where the enhancers may be naturally associated with the particular promoter or associated with a different promoter.

A termination region is provided 3' to the coding region, where the termination region may be naturally associated with the variable region domain or may be derived from a different source. A wide variety of termination regions may be employed without adversely affecting expression.

The various manipulations may be carried out in vitro or may be performed in an appropriate host, e.g. E. coli. After each manipulation, the resulting construct may be cloned, the vector isolated, and the DNA screened or sequenced to ensure the correctness of the construct. The sequence may be screened by restriction analysis, sequencing, or the like.

A small number of nucleotides may be inserted at the terminus of the autoantigen sequence, usually not more than 20, more usually not more than 15. The deletion or insertion of nucleotides will usually be as a result of the needs of the construction, providing for convenient restriction sites, addition of processing signals, ease of manipulation, improvement in levels of expression, or the like. In addition, one may wish to substitute one or more amino acids with a different amino acid for similar reasons, usually not substituting more than about five amino acids in the region.

In one embodiment of the invention the autoantigen is co-vaccinated with DNA sequences encoding a Th2 cytokine, which group includes IL-4, IL-10, TGF-.beta., etc. IL4 is of particular interest. The lymphokine IL-4 has T-cell and mast cell growth factor activities. Human IL4 is an 18-kD glycoprotein. For convenience the amino acid sequence is provided herein as SEQ ID NO:13, and the DNA sequence as SEQ ID NO:14 (Yokota et al. (1986) P.N.A.S. 83:5894-5898). This sequence is the preferred sequence of the invention. However, the invention is not limited to the use of this sequence in constructs of the invention. Also of use are closely related variant sequences that have the same biological activity, or substantially similar biological activity. A specific STAT6 DNA-binding target site is found in the promoter of the IL4 receptor gene; and STAT6 activates IL4 gene expression via this site. Interferons inhibit IL4-induced activation of STAT6 and STAT6-dependent gene expression, at least in part, by inducing expression of SOCS1 (see Kotanides et al. (1996) J. Biol. Chem. 271:25555-25561).

Variant sequences encode protein subunits which, when present in a DNA construct of the invention, give the protein one or more of the biological properties of IL-4 as described above. DNA sequences of the invention may differ from a native IL-4 sequence by the deletion, insertion or substitution of one or more nucleotides, provided that they encode a protein with the appropriate biological activity as described above. Similarly, they may be truncated or extended by one or more nucleotides. Alternatively, DNA sequences suitable for the practice of the invention may be degenerate sequences that encode the naturally occurring IL-4 protein. Typically, DNA sequences of the invention have at least 70%, at least 80%, at least 90%, at least 95% or at least 99% sequence identity to a native IL-4 coding sequence. They may originate from any species, though DNAs encoding human proteins are preferred. Variant sequences may be prepared by any suitable means known in the art.

With respect of substitutions, conservative substitutions are preferred. Typically, conservative substitutions are substitutions in which the substituted amino acid is of a similar nature to the one present in the naturally occurring protein, for example in terms of charge and/or size and/or polarity and/or hydrophobicity. Similarly, conservative substitutions typically have little or no effect on the activity of the protein. Proteins of the invention that differ in sequence from naturally occurring IL-4 may be engineered to differ in activity from naturally occurring IL-4. Such manipulations will typically be carried out at the nucleic acid level using recombinant techniques, as known in the art.

The vaccine may be formulated with one or a cocktail of autoantigen sequences, which may be on the same or different vectors. The DNA vectors are suspended in a physiologically acceptable buffer, generally an aqueous solution e.g. normal saline, phosphate buffered saline, water, etc. Stabilizing agents, wetting and emulsifying agents, salts for varying the osmotic pressure or buffers for securing an adequate pH value, and skin penetration enhancers can be used as auxiliary agents. The DNA will usually be present at a concentration of at least about 1 ng/ml and not more than about 10 mg/ml, usually at about from 100 .mu.g to 1 mg/ml.

In some embodiments of the the present invention, the patient is administered both an autoantigen encoding sequence and a Th2 cytokine encoding sequence. The cytokine and autoantigen can be delivered simultaneously, or within a short period of time, by the same or by different routes. In one embodiment of the invention, the two sequences are co-formulated, meaning that they are delivered together as part of a single composition. The coding sequences may be associated with one another by covalent linkage in a single nucleic acid molecule, where they may be present as two distinct coding sequences separated by a translational stop, or may be be present as a single fusion protein. The two sequences may also by joined by non-covalent interaction such as hydrophobic interaction, hydrogen bonding, ionic interaction, van der Waals interaction, magnetic interaction, or combinations thereof. Alternatively, the two constructs may simply be mixed in a common suspension, or encapsulated together in some form of delivery device such as, for example, an alginate device, a liposome, chitosan vesicle, etc. (see, for example, WO 98/33520, incorporated herein by reference).

The vaccine may be fractionated into two or more doses, of at least about 1 .mu.g, more usually at least about 100 .mu.g, and preferably at least about 1 mg per dose, administered from about 4 days to one week apart. In some embodiments of the invention, the individual is subject to a series of vaccinations to produce a full, broad immune response. According to this method, at least two and preferably four injections are given over a period of time. The period of time between injections may include from 24 hours apart to two weeks or longer between injections, preferably one week apart. Alternatively, at least two and up to four separate injections are given simultaneously at different parts of the body.

The DNA vaccine is injected into muscle or other tissue subcutaneously, intradermally, intravenously, orally or directly into the spinal fluid. Of particular interest is injection into skeletal muscle. The genetic vaccine may be administered directly into the individual to be immunized or ex vivo into removed cells of the individual which are reimplanted after administration. By either route, the genetic material is introduced into cells which are present in the body of the individual. Alternatively, the genetic vaccine may be introduced by various means into cells that are removed from the individual. Such means include, for example, transfection, electroporation and microprojectile bombardment. After the genetic construct is taken up by the cells, they are reimplanted into the individual. Otherwise non-immunogenic cells that have genetic constructs incorporated therein can betaken from one individual and implanted into another.

An example of intramuscular injection may be found in Wolff et al. (1990) Science 247:1465-1468. Jet injection may also be used for intramuscular administration, as described by Furth et al. (1992) Anal Biochem 205:365-368. The DNA may be coated onto gold microparticles, and delivered intradermally by a particle bombardment device, or "gene gun". Microparticle DNA vaccination has been described in the literature (see, for example, Tang et al. (1992) Nature 356:152-154). Gold microprojectiles are coated with the vaccine cassette, then bombarded into skin cells.

The genetic vaccines are formulated according to the mode of administration to be used. One having ordinary skill in the art can readily formulate a genetic vaccine that comprises a genetic construct. In cases where intramuscular injection is the chosen mode of administration, an isotonic formulation is used. Generally, additives for isotonicity can include sodium chloride, dextrose, mannitol, sorbitol and lactose. Isotonic solutions such as phosphate buffered saline are preferred. Stabilizers include gelatin and albumin.

According to the present invention, prior to or contemporaneously with administration of the genetic construct, cells may be administered a cell stimulating or cell proliferative agent, which terms are used interchangeably and refer to compounds that stimulate cell division and facilitate DNA and RNA uptake.

Bupivacaine or compounds having a functional similarity may be administered prior to or contemporaneously with the vaccine. Bupivacaine is a homologue of mepivacaine and related to lidocaine. It renders muscle tissue voltage sensitive to sodium challenge and effects ion concentration within the cells. In addition to bupivacaine, mepivacaine, lidocaine and other similarly acting compounds, other contemplated cell stimulating agents include lectins, growth factors, cytokines and lymphokines such as platelet derived growth factor (PDGF), gCSF, gMCSF, epidermal growth factor (EGF) and IL-4. About 50 .mu.l to about 2 ml of 0.5% bupivacaine-HCl and 0.1% methylparaben in an isotonic pharmaceutical carrier may be administered to the site where the vaccine is to be administered, preferably, 50 .mu.l to about 1500 .mu.l, more preferably about 1 ml. The genetic vaccine may also be combined with collagen as an emulsion and delivered intraperatonally. The collagen emulsion provides a means for sustained release of DNA. 50 .mu.l to 2 ml of collagen are used.

The efficiency of DNA vaccination may be improved by injection of cardiotoxin into the tissue about one week prior to the vaccination, as described by Davis et al. (1993) FEBS Lett. 333:146-150, and in the examples. The cardiotoxin stimulates muscle degeneration and regeneration. The muscle is injected with from about 0.1 to 10 .mu.M of cardiotoxin dissolved in a pharmacologically acceptable vehicle.

The condition that is being treated, and the host immune status will determine the choice of autoantigen sequence(s). The host may be assessed for immune responsiveness to a candidate vaccine autoantigen by various methods known in the art.

The diagnosis may determine the level of reactivity, e.g. based on the number of reactive T cells found in a sample, as compared to a negative control from a naive host, or standardized to a data curve obtained from one or more patients. In addition to detecting the qualitative and quantitative presence of auto-antigen reactive T cells, the T cells may be typed as to the expression of cytokines known to increase or suppress inflammatory responses. It may also be desirable to type the epitopic specificity of the reactive T cells.

T cells may be isolated from patient peripheral blood, lymph nodes, or preferably from the site inflammation. Reactivity assays may be performed on primary T cells, or the cells may be fused to generate hybridomas. Such reactive T cells may also be used for further analysis of disease progression, by monitoring their in situ location, T cell receptor utilization, etc. Assays for monitoring T cell responsiveness are known in the art, and include proliferation assays and cytokine release assays.

Proliferation assays measure the level of T cell proliferation in response to a specific antigen, and are widely used in the art. In an exemplary assay, patient lymph node, blood or spleen cells are obtained. A suspension of from about 10.sup.4 to 10.sup.7 cells, usually from about 10.sup.5 to 10.sup.6 cells is prepared and washed, then cultured in the presence of a control antigen, and test antigens. The test antigens may be peptides of any autologous antigens suspected of inducing an inflammatory T cell response. The cells are usually cultured for several days. Antigen-induced proliferation is assessed by the monitoring the synthesis of DNA by the cultures, e.g. incorporation of .sup.3H-thymidine during the last 18 H of culture.

Enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) assays are used to determine the cytokine profile of reactive T cells, and may be used to monitor for the expression of such cytokines as IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, .gamma.IFN, etc. The capture antibodies may be any antibody specific for a cytokine of interest, where supernatants from the T cell proliferation assays, as described above, are conveniently used as a source of antigen. After blocking and washing, labeled detector antibodies are added, and the concentrations of protein present determined as a function of the label that is bound.

The above diagnostic assays may be performed with various peptides derived from the autologous protein of interest. A series of peptides having the sequence of an auto-antigen, e.g. PLP, MBP, etc. may be used. Possible peptides may be screened to determine which are immunodominant in the context of autoimmune disease.

The immunodominant peptides may be defined by screening with a panel of peptides derived from the test protein. The peptides have the amino acid sequence of a portion of the protein, usually at least about 8 and not more than about 30 amino acids, more usually not more than about 20 amino acids in length. The panel of peptides will represent the length of the protein sequence, i.e. all residues are present in at least one peptide. Preferably overlapping peptides are generated, where each peptide is frameshifted from 1 to 5 amino acids, thereby generating a more complete set of epitopes. The peptides may be initially screened in pools, and later screened for the exact epitope to which the T cell will respond, as previously described. Immunodominant peptides are recognized by a significant fraction of the HLA restricted, responsive hybridomas, usually at least about 10%, more usually at least about 25%, and may be as much as 80%.

The subject therapy will desirably be administered during the presymptomatic or preclinical stage of the disease, and in some cases during the symptomatic stage of the disease. Early treatment is preferable, in order to prevent the loss of function associated with inflammatory tissue damage. The presymptomatic, or preclinical stage will be defined as that period not later than when there is T cell involvement at the site of disease, e.g. islets of Langerhans, synovial tissue, thyroid gland, etc., but the loss of function is not yet severe enough to produce the clinical symptoms indicative of overt disease. T cell involvement may be evidenced by the presence of elevated numbers of T cells at the site of disease, the presence of T cells specific for autoantigens, the release of performs and granzymes at the site of disease, response to immunosuppressive therapy, etc.

Degenerative joint diseases may be inflammatory, as with seronegative spondylarthropathies, e.g. ankylosing spondylitis and reactive arthritis; rheumatoid arthritis; gout; and systemic lupus erythematosus. The degenerative joint diseases have a common feature, in that the cartilage of the joint is eroded, eventually exposing the bone surface. Destruction of cartilage begins with the degradation of proteoglycan, mediated by enzymes such as stromelysin and collagenase, resulting in the loss of the ability to resist compressive stress. Alterations in the expression of adhesion molecules, such as CD44 (Swissprot P22511), ICAM-1 (Swissprot P05362), and extracellular matrix protein, such as fibronectin and tenascin, follow. Eventually fibrous collagens are attacked by metalloproteases, and when the collagenous microskeleton is lost, repair by regeneration is impossible.

There is significant immunological activity within the synovium during the course of inflammatory arthritis. While treatment during early stages is desirable, the adverse symptoms of the disease may be at least partially alleviated by treatment during later stages. Clinical indices for the severity of arthritis include pain, swelling, fatigue and morning stiffness, and may be quantitatively monitored by Pannus criteria. Disease progression in animal models may be followed by measurement of affected joint inflammation. Therapy for inflammatory arthritis may combine the subject treatment with conventional NSAID treatment. Generally, the subject treatment will not be combined with such disease modifying drugs as cyclosporin A, methotrexate, and the like.

A quantitative increase in myelin autoreactive T cells with the capacity to secrete IFN-gamma is associated with the pathogenesis of MS and EAE, suggesting that autoimmune inducer/helper T lymphocytes in the peripheral blood of MS patients may initiate and/or regulate the demyelination process in patients with MS. The overt disease is associated with muscle weakness, loss of abdominal reflexes, visual defects and paresthesias. During the presymptomatic period there is infiltration of leukocytes into the cerebrospinal fluid, inflammation and demyelination. Family histories and the presence of the HLA haplotype DRB1*1501, DQA1*0102, DQB1*0602 are indicative of a susceptibility to the disease. Markers that may be monitored for disease progression are the presence of antibodies in the cerebrospinal fluid, "evoked potentials" seen by electroencephalography in the visual cortex and brainstem, and the presence of spinal cord defects by MRI or computerized tomography. Treatment during the early stages of the disease will slow down or arrest the further loss of neural function.

Human insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) is a disease characterized by autoimmune destruction of the .beta. cells in the pancreatic islets of Langerhans. An animal model for the disease is the non-obese diabetic (NOD) mouse, which develops autoimmunity. NOD mice spontaneously develop inflammation of the islets and destruction of the .beta. cells, which leads to hyperglycemia and overt diabetes. Both CD4.sup.+ and CD8.sup.+ T cells are required for diabetes to develop: CD4.sup.+ T cells appear to be required for initiation of insulitis, cytokine-mediated destruction of .beta. cells, and probably for activation of CD8.sup.+ T cells. The CD8.sup.+ T cells in turn mediate .beta. cell destruction by cytotoxic effects such as release of granzymes, perforin, TNF.alpha. and IFN.gamma.. Reactivities to several candidate autoantigens, including epitopes of insulin and glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), have been detected.

In one embodiment of the invention, the coding sequence used for vaccination provides for an immunogenic insulin epitope. Immunodominant epitopes include the B chain, in particular residues 9-23, which have been implicated in both human disease and in animal models. Epitopes of the pre-proinsulin have also been implicated as immunodominant epitopes. Protection from diabetes is associated with down regulation of IFN-.gamma. and IL-10 in pancreatic lymph node cells in response to the insulin peptide encoded in the vaccine. It has been found that T cells immunized with an immunodominant insulin epitope express substantially lower levels of IFN-.gamma. in response to activation.

The depletion of .beta. cells results in an inability to regulate levels of glucose in the blood. Overt diabetes occurs when the level of glucose in the blood rises above a specific level, usually about 250 mg/dl. In humans a long presymptomatic period precedes the onset of diabetes. During this period there is a gradual loss of pancreatic .beta. cell function. The disease progression may be monitored in individuals diagnosed by family history and genetic analysis as being susceptible. The most important genetic effect is seen with genes of the major histocompatibility locus (IDDM1), although other loci, including the insulin gene region (IDDM2) also show linkage to the disease (see Davies et al, supra and Kennedy et al. (1995) Nature Genetics 9:293-298).

Markers that may be evaluated during the presymptomatic stage are the presence of insulitis in the pancreas, the level and frequency of islet cell antibodies, islet cell surface antibodies, aberrant expression of Class II MHC molecules on pancreatic .beta. cells, glucose concentration in the blood, and the plasma concentration of insulin. An increase in the number of T lymphocytes in the pancreas, islet cell antibodies and blood glucose is indicative of the disease, as is a decrease in insulin concentration. After the onset of overt diabetes, patients with residual b cell function, evidenced by the plasma persistence of insulin C-peptide, may also benefit from the subject treatment, to prevent further loss of function.

Mammalian species susceptible to inflammatory conditions include canines and felines; equines; bovines; ovines; etc. and primates, particularly humans. Animal models, particularly small mammals, e.g. murine, lagomorpha, etc. may be used for experimental investigations. Animal models of interest include those involved with the production of antibodies having isotypes associated with IL-4 production, e.g. IgE, IgG1 and IgG4. Other uses include investigations where it is desirable to investigate a specific effect in the absence of T cell mediated inflammation.

It is to be understood that this invention is not limited to the particular methodology, protocols, formulations and reagents described, as such may, of course, vary. It is also to be understood that the terminology used herein is for the purpose of describing particular embodiments only, and is not intended to limit the scope of the present invention which will be limited only by the appended claims.

Claim 1 of 10 Claims

1. A method of reducing destruction of .beta. cells in a mammal in need thereof, the method comprising administering intramuscularly to the mammal a modified plasmid DNA vector comprising an expression cassette, the expression cassette comprising a promoter active in mammalian cells operably linked to a DNA encoding an insulin autoantigen targeted in IDDM, wherein the insulin autoantigen is selected from the group consisting of insulin B chain, pre-proinsulin, and proinsulin, wherein the modified plasmid DNA vector has a low number of CpG motifs compared to an unmodified plasmid DNA vector, so as to thereby reduce the destruction of .beta. cells in the mammal.



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