PURPOSE: To test the hypothesis that autoimmune mechanisms are involved in horses in which equine recurrent uveitis (ERU) develops spontaneously. METHODS: Material obtained from horses treated for spontaneous disease by therapeutic routine vitrectomy was analyzed for total IgG content and IgG specific for S-Antigen (S-Ag) and interphotoreceptor retinoid-binding protein (IRBP). The cellular infiltrate of the vitreous was analyzed by differential counts of cytospin preparations and flow cytometry using equine lymphocyte-specific antibodies. Antigen-specific proliferation assays were performed comparing peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs) with vitreal lymphocytes by stimulation with S-Ag and several S-Ag- and IRBP-derived peptides. RESULTS: The total IgG content of specimens from horses with ERU was very high with great variability among the investigated samples (11.5 +/- 8.0 mg). Autoantibodies to S-Ag or IRBP or both were found in 72% of vitreous specimens from horses with uveitis. The leukocyte infiltrates (up to 2 x 10(8) cells per sample) were dominated by lymphocytes (>90%) in most cases (22/32). Flow cytometry showed that more than 50% of these cells were CD4(+) T cells. In vitro stimulation of vitreal lymphocytes, but not of PBL, showed a strong proliferative response to peptides derived from S-Ag or IRBP in 9 of 12 patients. CONCLUSIONS: In the eyes of horses with ERU, IgG antibodies and autoreactive T cells specific for retinal antigens were detected. These results strongly support the hypothesis that ERU is an autoimmune-mediated disease and is highly similar to recurrent uveitis in humans in both clinical and immunologic parameters.
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