T cell receptor repertoires of mice and humans are clustered in similarity networks around conserved public CDR3 sequences

Elife. 2017 Jul 21;6:e22057. doi: 10.7554/eLife.22057.


Diversity of T cell receptor (TCR) repertoires, generated by somatic DNA rearrangements, is central to immune system function. However, the level of sequence similarity of TCR repertoires within and between species has not been characterized. Using network analysis of high-throughput TCR sequencing data, we found that abundant CDR3-TCRβ sequences were clustered within networks generated by sequence similarity. We discovered a substantial number of public CDR3-TCRβ segments that were identical in mice and humans. These conserved public sequences were central within TCR sequence-similarity networks. Annotated TCR sequences, previously associated with self-specificities such as autoimmunity and cancer, were linked to network clusters. Mechanistically, CDR3 networks were promoted by MHC-mediated selection, and were reduced following immunization, immune checkpoint blockade or aging. Our findings provide a new view of T cell repertoire organization and physiology, and suggest that the immune system distributes its TCR sequences unevenly, attending to specific foci of reactivity.

Keywords: CDR3; T cell receptor; computational biology; human; immunology; lymphocyte subsets; mouse; systems biology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Conserved Sequence*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / genetics*
  • Sequence Homology


  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta

Grant support

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.