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Myocarditis is one of the major causes of heart failure in children and young adults and can lead to dilated cardiomyopathy. Lymphocytic myocarditis could result from autoreactive CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, but defining antigen specificity in disease pathogenesis is challenging. To address this issue, we generated T cell receptor (TCR) transgenic (Tg) C57BL/6J mice specific to cardiac myosin heavy chain (Myhc)-α 334-352 and found that Myhc-α-specific TCRs were expressed in both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. To investigate if the phenotype is more pronounced in a myocarditis-susceptible genetic background, we backcrossed with A/J mice. At the fourth generation of backcrossing, we observed that Tg T cells from naïve mice responded to Myhc-α 334-352, as evaluated by proliferation assay and carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester staining. The T cell responses included significant production of mainly pro-inflammatory cytokines, namely interferon (IFN)-γ, interleukin-17, and granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor. While the naïve Tg mice had isolated myocardial lesions, immunization with Myhc-α 334-352 led to mild myocarditis, suggesting that further backcrossing to increase the percentage of A/J genome close to 99.99% might show a more severe disease phenotype. Further investigations led us to note that CD4+ T cells displayed the phenotype of cytotoxic T cells (CTLs) akin to those of conventional CD8+ CTLs, as determined by the expression of CD107a, IFN-γ, granzyme B natural killer cell receptor (NKG)2A, NKG2D, cytotoxic and regulatory T cell molecules, and eomesodermin. Taken together, the transgenic system described in this report may be a helpful tool to distinguish the roles of cytotoxic cardiac antigen-specific CD4+ T cells vs. those of CD8+ T cells in the pathogenesis of myocarditis.

MeSH Headings

Animals, Humans, Mice, Autoimmunity, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Transgenic, Myocarditis, Myosin Heavy Chains, Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.