Organization of the resting TCR in nanoscale oligomers

Immunol Rev. 2013 Jan;251(1):13-20. doi: 10.1111/imr.12019.


Despite the low affinity of the T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) for its peptide/major histocompatibility complex (pMHC) ligand, T cells are very sensitive to their antigens. This paradox can be resolved if we consider that the TCR may be organized into pre-existing oligomers or nanoclusters. Such structures could improve antigen recognition by increasing the functional affinity (avidity) of the TCR-pMHC interaction and by allowing cooperativity between individual TCRs. Up to approximately 20 TCRs become tightly apposed in these nanoclusters, often in a linear manner, and such structures could reflect a relatively generalized phenomenon: the non-random concentration of membrane receptors in specific areas of the plasma membrane known as protein islands. The association of TCRs into nanoclusters can explain the enhanced kinetics of the pMHC-TCR interaction in two dimensional versus three dimensional systems, but also their existence calls for a revision of the TCR triggering models based on pMHC-induced TCR clustering. Interestingly, the B-cell receptor and the FcεRI have also been shown to form nanoclusters, suggesting that the formation of pre-existing receptor oligomers could be widely used in the immune system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Multiprotein Complexes / chemistry
  • Multiprotein Complexes / metabolism*
  • Nanostructures*
  • Receptor Aggregation / immunology
  • Receptor Cross-Talk / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Multiprotein Complexes
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell