Peptide-MHC (pMHC) binding to a human antiviral T cell receptor induces long-range allosteric communication between pMHC- and CD3-binding sites

J Biol Chem. 2018 Oct 12;293(41):15991-16005. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.003832. Epub 2018 Aug 22.


T cells generate adaptive immune responses mediated by the T cell receptor (TCR)-CD3 complex comprising an αβ TCR heterodimer noncovalently associated with three CD3 dimers. In early T cell activation, αβ TCR engagement by peptide-major histocompatibility complex (pMHC) is first communicated to the CD3 signaling apparatus of the TCR-CD3 complex, but the underlying mechanism is incompletely understood. It is possible that pMHC binding induces allosteric changes in TCR conformation or dynamics that are then relayed to CD3. Here, we carried out NMR analysis and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of both the α and β chains of a human antiviral TCR (A6) that recognizes the Tax antigen from human T cell lymphotropic virus-1 bound to the MHC class I molecule HLA-A2. We observed pMHC-induced NMR signal perturbations in the TCR variable (V) domains that propagated to three distinct sites in the constant (C) domains: 1) the Cβ FG loop projecting from the Vβ/Cβ interface; 2) a cluster of Cβ residues near the Cβ αA helix, a region involved in interactions with CD3; and 3) the Cα AB loop at the membrane-proximal base of the TCR. A biological role for each of these allosteric sites is supported by previous mutational and functional studies of TCR signaling. Moreover, the pattern of long-range, ligand-induced changes in TCR A6 revealed by NMR was broadly similar to that predicted by the MD simulations. We propose that the unique structure of the TCR β chain enables allosteric communication between the TCR-binding sites for pMHC and CD3.

Keywords: T cell activation; T cell receptor (TCR); adaptive immunity; allosteric regulation; conformational change; major histocompatibility complex (MHC); molecular dynamics; nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR); signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Regulation
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Gene Products, tax / chemistry
  • Gene Products, tax / metabolism*
  • HLA-A2 Antigen / chemistry
  • HLA-A2 Antigen / metabolism*
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus 1 / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Receptor-CD3 Complex, Antigen, T-Cell / chemistry
  • Receptor-CD3 Complex, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / chemistry
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / metabolism*


  • Gene Products, tax
  • HLA-A2 Antigen
  • Receptor-CD3 Complex, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta

Associated data

  • PDB/3QH3
  • PDB/1QRN
  • PDB/4FTV
  • PDB/3QH3.pdb