PLoS ONE (Jan 2012)

Discovery of T cell antigens by high-throughput screening of synthetic minigene libraries.

  • Brian D Hondowicz,
  • Katharine V Schwedhelm,
  • Arnold Kas,
  • Michael A Tasch,
  • Crystal Rawlings,
  • Nirasha Ramchurren,
  • Martin McIntosh,
  • Leonard A D'Amico,
  • Srinath Sanda,
  • Nathan E Standifer,
  • Jay Shendure,
  • Brad Stone

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 7, no. 1
p. e29949


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The identification of novel T cell antigens is central to basic and translational research in autoimmunity, tumor immunology, transplant immunology, and vaccine design for infectious disease. However, current methods for T cell antigen discovery are low throughput, and fail to explore a wide range of potential antigen-receptor interactions. To overcome these limitations, we developed a method in which programmable microarrays are used to cost-effectively synthesize complex libraries of thousands of minigenes that collectively encode the content of hundreds of candidate protein targets. Minigene-derived mRNA are transfected into autologous antigen presenting cells and used to challenge complex populations of purified peripheral blood CD8+ T cells in multiplex, parallel ELISPOT assays. In this proof-of-concept study, we apply synthetic minigene screening to identify two novel pancreatic islet autoantigens targeted in a patient with Type I Diabetes. To our knowledge, this is the first successful screen of a highly complex, synthetic minigene library for identification of a T cell antigen. In principle, responses against the full protein complement of any tissue or pathogen can be assayed by this approach, suggesting that further optimization of synthetic libraries holds promise for high throughput antigen discovery.