On the immunogenic properties of retro-inverso peptides. Total retro-inversion of T-cell epitopes causes a loss of binding to MHC II molecules

Mol Immunol. 1997 Feb;34(2):157-63. doi: 10.1016/s0161-5890(97)00004-7.


Retro-inversion is considered an attractive approach for drug and vaccine design since it provides the modified peptides with higher resistance to proteolytic degradation. We therefore investigated in detail the effect of retro-inversion on the immunological properties of synthetic peptides. We have synthesized retro-inverso analogues of MHC II restricted peptides that thus contained the correct orientation of the side chains but an inverse main chain. Retro-inversion made the peptides unable to compete in I E(d) or I A(d) binding tests, demonstrating a very low, if any, capacity to bind to MHC II molecules. These results confirm previous structural data that hydrogen bonds between residues of MHC II molecules and the main chain of antigenic peptides play a major interacting role. In vito experiments further showed that retro-inversion of a T-cell epitope causes its inability to either sustain in vitro T-cell stimulation or to prime specific T cells. Moreover, the retro-inverso peptide was not recognized by antibodies raised against the native peptide and did not elicit antibodies when injected into BALB/c mice. Retro-inverso peptides appear to be poor immunogens as a result of their weak capacity to bind to MHC II molecules. As an advantage, they are not expected to trigger undesirable humoral responses such as hypersensitivity or allergic disease. These results also provide a molecular explanation regarding the weak immunogenicity of D-amino acids containing polypeptides.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cobra Neurotoxin Proteins / chemistry
  • Cobra Neurotoxin Proteins / immunology
  • Drug Design
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology*
  • Female
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Peptide Fragments / chemistry
  • Peptide Fragments / immunology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Cobra Neurotoxin Proteins
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • I-E-antigen
  • Peptide Fragments
  • alpha-cobratoxin