A chemically inert drug can stimulate T cells in vitro by their T cell receptor in non-sensitised individuals

Toxicology. 2004 Apr 1;197(1):47-56. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2003.12.008.


Drugs can interact with T cell receptors (TCR) after binding to peptide-MHC structures. This binding may involve the formation of a stable, covalent bond between a chemically reactive drug and MHC or the peptide embedded within. Alternatively, if the drug is chemically inert, the binding may be non-covalent and readily reversible. Both types of drug presentation account for a substantial number of adverse side effects to drugs. Presently no tests are available to predict the ability of chemically inert drugs to stimulate an immune response. Here we present data on the successful induction of a primary T cell immune response in vitro against a chemically inert drug using blood from healthy individuals, previously not exposed to the drug. Blood lymphocytes were stimulated by the chemically inert drug sulfamethoxazole and the protein-reactive drug-metabolite sulfamethoxazole-nitroso in the presence of IL-2. 9/10 individuals reacted in response to sulfamethoxazole-nitroso, but only three reacted to the chemically inert compound sulfamethoxazole. Drug reactive T cells could be detected after 14-35 days of cell culture by drug-specific proliferation or cytotoxicity, which was MHC-restricted. These cells were CD4, CD8 positive or CD4/CD8 double positive and T cell clones generated secreted Th0 type cytokines. Drug interaction lead to down-regulation of specific TCR. These data confirm the ability of chemically inert drugs to stimulate certain T cells by their TCR and may provide the opportunity to screen new drugs for their ability to interact with TCRs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / metabolism
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacology*
  • Adult
  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / drug effects
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Line
  • Clone Cells
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Cytotoxicity Tests, Immunologic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nitroso Compounds / metabolism
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell* / immunology
  • Sulfamethoxazole / metabolism
  • Sulfamethoxazole / pharmacology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Nitroso Compounds
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Sulfamethoxazole