Designing an optimal HIV-1 vaccine faces the challenge of identifying antigens that induce a broad immune capacity. One factor to control the breadth of T cell responses is the surface morphology of a peptide-MHC complex. Here, we present an in silico protocol for predicting peptide-MHC structure. A robust signature of a conformational transition was identified during all-atom molecular dynamics, which results in a model with high accuracy. A large test set was used in constructing our protocol and we went another step further using a blind test with a wild-type peptide and two highly immunogenic mutants, which predicted substantial conformational changes in both mutants. The center residues at position five of the analogs were configured to be accessible to solvent, forming a prominent surface, while the residue of the wild-type peptide was to point laterally toward the side of the binding cleft. We then experimentally determined the structures of the blind test set, using high resolution of X-ray crystallography, which verified predicted conformational changes. Our observation strongly supports a positive association of the surface morphology of a peptide-MHC complex to its immunogenicity. Our study offers the prospect of enhancing immunogenicity of vaccines by identifying MHC binding immunogens.
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