The Role of Molecular Flexibility in Antigen Presentation and T Cell Receptor-Mediated Signaling

Front Immunol. 2018 Jul 17;9:1657. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.01657. eCollection 2018.


Antigen presentation is a cellular process that involves a number of steps, beginning with the production of peptides by proteolysis or aberrant synthesis and the delivery of peptides to cellular compartments where they are loaded on MHC class I (MHC-I) or MHC class II (MHC-II) molecules. The selective loading and editing of high-affinity immunodominant antigens is orchestrated by molecular chaperones: tapasin/TAP-binding protein, related for MHC-I and HLA-DM for MHC-II. Once peptide/MHC (pMHC) complexes are assembled, following various steps of quality control, they are delivered to the cell surface, where they are available for identification by αβ receptors on CD8+ or CD4+ T lymphocytes. In addition, recognition of cell surface peptide/MHC-I complexes by natural killer cell receptors plays a regulatory role in some aspects of the innate immune response. Many of the components of the pathways of antigen processing and presentation and of T cell receptor (TCR)-mediated signaling have been studied extensively by biochemical, genetic, immunological, and structural approaches over the past several decades. Until recently, however, dynamic aspects of the interactions of peptide with MHC, MHC with molecular chaperones, or of pMHC with TCR have been difficult to address experimentally, although computational approaches such as molecular dynamics (MD) simulations have been illuminating. Studies exploiting X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy, and multidimensional nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy are beginning to reveal the importance of molecular flexibility as it pertains to peptide loading onto MHC molecules, the interactions between pMHC and TCR, and subsequent TCR-mediated signals. In addition, recent structural and dynamic insights into how molecular chaperones define peptide selection and fine-tune the MHC displayed antigen repertoire are discussed. Here, we offer a review of current knowledge that highlights experimental data obtained by X-ray crystallography and multidimensional NMR methodologies. Collectively, these findings strongly support a multifaceted role for protein plasticity and conformational dynamics throughout the antigen processing and presentation pathway in dictating antigen selection and recognition.

Keywords: T cell receptor; TAP-binding protein; chaperone; major histocompatibility complex; related; tapasin; transporter associated with antigen presentation.

Publication types

  • Review