One-pot, mix-and-read peptide-MHC tetramers

PLoS One. 2008 Feb 27;3(2):e1678. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001678.


Background: Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes (CTL) recognize complexes of peptide ligands and Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class I molecules presented at the surface of Antigen Presenting Cells (APC). Detection and isolation of CTL's are of importance for research on CTL immunity, and development of vaccines and adoptive immune therapy. Peptide-MHC tetramers have become important reagents for detection and enumeration of specific CTL's. Conventional peptide-MHC-tetramer production involves recombinant MHC production, in vitro refolding, biotinylation and tetramerization; each step followed by various biochemical steps such as chromatographic purification, concentration etc. Such cumbersome production protocols have limited dissemination and restricted availability of peptide-MHC tetramers effectively precluding large-scale screening strategies involving many different peptide-MHC tetramers.

Methodology/principal findings: We have developed an approach whereby any given tetramer specificity can be produced within 2 days with very limited effort and hands-on time. The strategy is based on the isolation of correctly oxidized, in vivo biotinylated recombinant MHC I heavy chain (HC). Such biotinylated MHC I HC molecules can be refolded in vitro, tetramerized with streptavidin, and used for specific T cell staining-all in a one-pot reaction without any intervening purification steps.

Conclusions/significance: We have developed an efficient "one-pot, mix-and-read" strategy for peptide-MHC tetramer generation, and demonstrated specific T cell straining comparable to a commercially available MHC-tetramer. Here, seven peptide-MHC tetramers representing four different human MHC (HLA) class I proteins have been generated. The technique should be readily extendable to any binding peptide and pre-biotinylated MHC (at this time we have over 40 different pre-biotinylated HLA proteins). It is simple, robust, and versatile technique with a very broad application potential as it can be adapted both to small- and large-scale production of one or many different peptide-MHC tetramers for T cell isolation, or epitope screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biotinylation
  • Epitope Mapping
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Techniques*
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex*
  • Methods
  • Peptides / immunology
  • Peptides / isolation & purification*
  • Streptavidin
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Peptides
  • Streptavidin