T cell activation

Annu Rev Immunol. 2009:27:591-619. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.021908.132706.


This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first Annual Review of Immunology article to describe features of the T cell antigen receptor (TCR). In celebration of this anniversary, we begin with a brief introduction outlining the chronology of the earliest studies that established the basic paradigm for how the engaged TCR transduces its signals. This review continues with a description of the current state of our understanding of TCR signaling, as well as a summary of recent findings examining other key aspects of T cell activation, including cross talk between the TCR and integrins, the role of costimulatory molecules, and how signals may negatively regulate T cell function.Acronyms and DefinitionsAdapter protein: cellular protein that functions to bridge molecular interactions via characteristic domains able to mediate protein/protein or protein/lipid interactions Costimulation: signals delivered to T cells by cell surface receptors other than the TCR itself that potentiate T cell activation cSMAC: central supramolecular activation cluster Immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motif (ITAM): a short peptide sequence in the cytoplasmic tails of key surface receptors on hematopoietic cells that is characterized by tyrosine residues that are phosphorylated by Src family PTKs, enabling the ITAM to recruit activated Syk family kinases Inside-out signaling: signals initiated by engagement of immunoreceptors that lead to conformational changes and clustering of integrins, thereby increasing the affinity and avidity of the integrins for their ligands NFAT: nuclear factor of activated T cells PI3K: phosphoinositide 3-kinase PKC: protein kinase C PLC: phospholipase C pMHC: peptide major histocompatibility complex (MHC) complex pSMAC: peripheral supramolecular activation cluster PTK: protein tyrosine kinase Signal transduction: biochemical events linking surface receptor engagement to cellular responses TCR: T cell antigen receptor

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actins / immunology
  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • CD3 Complex / immunology*
  • CD3 Complex / metabolism
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Cytoskeleton / immunology
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Integrins / immunology*
  • Integrins / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Activation*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets


  • Actins
  • CD3 Complex
  • Cytokines
  • Integrins
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell