Summary: Infectious and inflammatory diseases of the CNS are often characterized by a robust B-cell response that manifests as increased intrathecal immunoglobulin G (IgG) synthesis and the presence of oligoclonal bands. We previously used laser capture microdissection and single-cell PCR to analyze the IgG variable regions of plasma cells from the brain of a patient with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). Five of eight human IgG1 recombinant antibodies (rAbs) derived from SSPE brain plasma cell clones recognized the measles virus (MV) nucleocapsid protein, confirming that the antibody response in SSPE targets primarily the agent causing disease. In this study, as part of our work on antigen identification, we used four rAbs to probe a random phage-displayed peptide library to determine if epitopes within the MV nucleocapsid protein could be identified with SSPE brain rAbs. All four of the SSPE rAbs enriched phage-displayed peptide sequences that reacted specifically to their panning rAb by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. BLASTP searches of the NCBI protein database revealed clear homologies in three peptides and different amino acid stretches within the 65 C-terminal amino acids of the MV nucleocapsid protein. The specificities of SSPE rAbs to these regions of the MV nucleocapsid protein were confirmed by binding to synthetic peptides or to short cDNA expression products. These results indicate the feasibility of using peptide screening for antigen discovery in central nervous system inflammatory diseases of unknown etiology, such as multiple sclerosis, neurosarcoidosis, or Behcet’s syndrome.

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