In humans, Vγ9Vδ2 T cells detect tumor cells and microbial infections, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, through recognition of small pyrophosphate containing organic molecules known as phosphoantigens (pAgs). Key to pAg-mediated activation of Vγ9Vδ2 T cells is the butyrophilin 3A1 (BTN3A1) protein that contains an intracellular B30.2 domain critical to pAg reactivity. Here, we have demonstrated through structural, biophysical, and functional approaches that the intracellular B30.2 domain of BTN3A1 directly binds pAg through a positively charged surface pocket. Charge reversal of pocket residues abrogates binding and Vγ9Vδ2 T cell activation. We have also identified a gain-of-function mutation within this pocket that, when introduced into the B30.2 domain of the nonstimulatory BTN3A3 isoform, transfers pAg binding ability and Vγ9Vδ2 T cell activation. These studies demonstrate that internal sensing of changes in pAg metabolite concentrations by BTN3A1 molecules is a critical step in Vγ9Vδ2 T cell detection of infection and tumorigenesis.
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