T lymphocytes sense antigens within seconds and make a decision within one minute

J Immunol. 2013 Sep 1;191(5):2064-71. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1300523. Epub 2013 Jul 29.


Adaptive immune responses are triggered by the rapid and sensitive detection of MHC-bound peptides by TCRs. The kinetics of early TCR/APC contacts are incompletely known. In this study, we used total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy to image human T cell membranes near model surfaces: contact was mediated by mobile protrusions of <0.4 μm diameter. The mean lifetime of contacts with a neutral surface was 8.6 s. Adhesive interactions increased mean contact time to 27.6 s. Additional presence of TCR ligands dramatically decreased contact to 13.7 s, thus evidencing TCR-mediated triggering of a pulling motion within seconds after ligand encounter. After an interaction typically involving 30-40 contacts formed during a 1-min observation period, TCR stimulation triggered a rapid and active cell spreading. Pulling events and cell spreading were mimicked by pharmacological phospholipase Cγ1 activation, and they were prevented by phospholipase Cγ1 inhibition. These results provide a quantitative basis for elucidating the earliest cell response to the detection of foreign Ags.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antigens / immunology
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Time


  • Antigens
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell