While much is known about intracellular signaling events in T cells when T cell receptors (TCRs) are engaged, the mechanism by which signaling is initiated is unclear. We have constructed defined oligomers of soluble antigen-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules, the natural ligands for the TCR. Using these to stimulate specific T cells in vitro, we find that agonist peptide/MHC ligands are nonstimulatory as monomers and minimally stimulatory as dimers. Similarly, a partial-agonist ligand is very weakly active as a tetramer. In contrast, trimeric or tetrameric agonist ligands that engage multiple TCRs for a sustained duration are potent stimuli. Ligand-driven formation of TCR clusters seems required for effective activation and helps to explain the specificity and sensitivity of T cells.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Immunology and Allergy
- Infectious Diseases