Clustering of MHC-peptide complexes prior to their engagement in the immunological synapse: lipid raft and tetraspan microdomains

Immunol Rev. 2002 Nov;189:136-51. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-065x.2002.18912.x.


Protein reorganization at the interface of a T cell and an antigen-presenting cell (APC) plays an important role in T cell activation. Imaging techniques reveal that reorganization of particular receptor-ligand pairs gives rise to an intercellular junction, termed the immunological synapse. In this synapse antigenic peptides associated with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules form multimolecular arrays on the APC side, engaging an equivalent number of clustered T cell receptors (TCRs) on the T cell. The accumulation of MHC molecules carrying cognate peptide in the APC-T cell interface was thought to depend on the specificity and presence of TCRs. Recent evidence, however, suggests that the APC is equipped to preorganize MHC-peptide complexes in the absence of T cells. To this end, MHC molecules become incorporated into two types of membrane microdomains: (i) cholesterol- and glycosphingolipid-enriched domains, denoted lipid rafts, that preconcentrate MHC class II molecules; and (ii) microdomains made up of tetraspan proteins, such as CD9, CD63, CD81 or CD82, that mediate enrichment of MHC class II molecules loaded with a select set of peptides. It follows that the integrity, composition and dynamics of these microdomains are candidate determinants favoring activation or silencing of T cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Cell Communication
  • HLA-D Antigens / metabolism
  • Histocompatibility Antigens / metabolism*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / chemistry
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Junctions / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Membrane Microdomains / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Immunological
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • CDw78 antigen
  • HLA-D Antigens
  • HLA-DM antigens
  • Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • Macromolecular Substances