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Autoimmune uveoretinitis accounts for at least 10% of worldwide blindness, yet it is unclear why tolerance to retinal Ags is so fragile and, particularly, to what extent this might be due to defects in peripheral tolerance. To address this issue, we generated double-transgenic mice expressing hen egg lysozyme, under the retinal interphotoreceptor retinoid-binding promoter, and a hen egg lysozyme-specific CD4(+) TCR transgene. In this manner, we have tracked autoreactive CD4(+) T cells from their development in the thymus to their involvement in uveoretinitis and compared tolerogenic mechanisms induced in a variety of organs to the same self-Ag. Our findings show that central tolerance to retinal and pancreatic Ags is qualitatively similar and equally dependent on the transcriptional regulator protein AIRE. However, the lack of Ag presentation in the eye-draining lymph nodes results in a failure to induce high levels of T cell anergy. Under these circumstances, despite considerable central deletion, low levels of retinal-specific autoreactive CD4(+) T cells can induce severe autoimmune disease. The relative lack of anergy induction by retinal Ags, in contrast to the same Ag in other organs, helps to explain the unique susceptibility of the eye to spontaneous and experimentally induced autoimmune disease.

Original publication




Journal article


J Immunol

Publication Date





4276 - 4283


Animals, Autoantigens, Autoimmune Diseases, Autoimmunity, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Clonal Anergy, Eye Proteins, Mice, Mice, Transgenic, Muramidase, Pancreas, Retina, Retinitis, Retinol-Binding Proteins, Transcription Factors, Uveitis