Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Association of HLA-DR1 with the allergic response to the major mugwort pollen allergen: molecular background

Bernhard Knapp1, Gottfried Fischer2, Dries Van Hemelen3, Ingrid Fae2, Bernard Maillere4, Christof Ebner5, Wolfgang Schreiner1, Barbara Bohle36 and Beatrice Jahn-Schmid3*

Author Affiliations

1 Department for Biomedical Computersimulation and Bioinformatics, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

2 Department of Blood Group Serology, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

3 Department of Pathophysiology and Allergy Research, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

4 CEA, iBiTecS, Service d’Ingénierie Moléculaire des Protéines (SIMOPRO), Gif-sur-Yvette, France

5 Allergieambulatorium Reumannplatz, Vienna, Austria

6 Christian-Doppler Laboratory for Immunomodulation, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

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BMC Immunology 2012, 13:43  doi:10.1186/1471-2172-13-43

Published: 8 August 2012



Mugwort pollen allergens represent the main cause of pollinosis in late summer. The major allergen, Art v 1, contains only one single immunodominant, solely HLA-DR-restricted T cell epitope (Art v 125-36). The frequency of HLA-DRB1*01 is highly increased in mugwort-allergic individuals and HLA-DR1 serves as restriction element for Art v 125-36. However, Art v 125-36 also binds to HLA-DR4 with high affinity and DR1-restricted Art v 125-36 -specific T cell receptors can be activated by HLA-DR4 molecules. To understand the predominance of HLA-DR1 in mugwort allergy in spite of the degeneracy in HLA/peptide-binding and TCR-recognition, we investigated the molecular background of Art v 125-36 /MHC/TCR interactions in the context of HLA-DR1 compared to -DR4.


The majority of Art v 125-36 -specific T cell lines and clones from HLA-DR1 carrying, mugwort pollen-allergic donors reacted to synthetic and naturally processed Art v 1–peptides when presented by HLA-DR1 or HLA-DR4 expressing antigen presenting cells. However, at limiting peptide concentrations DR1 was more effective in T cell stimulation. In addition, the minimal epitope for 50% of Art v 125-36 -specific T cells was shorter for DR1 than for DR4. In vitro binding assays of Art v 125-36 mutant peptides to isolated DR1- and DR4-molecules indicated similar binding capacities and use of the same register. In silico simulation of Art v 125-36 binding to HLA-DR1 and -DR4 suggested similar binding of the central part of the peptide to either molecule, but a higher flexibility of the N- and C-terminal amino acids and detachment at the C-terminus in HLA-DR1.


The predominance of HLA-DR1 in the response to Art v 125-36 may be explained by subtle conformation changes of the peptide bound to DR1 compared to DR4. Computer simulation supported our experimental data by demonstrating differences in peptide mobility within the HLA-DR complex that may influence TCR-binding. We suggest that the minor differences observed in vitro may be more relevant in the microenvironment in vivo, so that only presentation by HLA-DR1, but not -DR4 permits successful T cell activation.

HLA association; Peptide/MHC-class II-TCR interaction; T cell recognition; Allergen; Art v 1; Molecular dynamics simulation