CD81 (TAPA-1): a molecule involved in signal transduction and cell adhesion in the immune system

Annu Rev Immunol. 1998:16:89-109. doi: 10.1146/annurev.immunol.16.1.89.


CD81 (TAPA-1) is a widely expressed cell-surface protein involved in an astonishing variety of biologic responses. It has been cloned independently several times for different functional effects and is reported to influence adhesion, morphology, activation, proliferation, and differentiation of B, T, and other cells. On B cells CD81 is part of a complex with CD21, CD19, and Leu13. This complex reduces the threshold for B cell activation via the B cell receptor by bridging Ag specific recognition and CD21-mediated complement recognition. Similarly on T cells CD81 associates with CD4 and CD8 and provides a costimulatory signal with CD3. In fetal thymic organ culture, mAb to CD81 block maturation of CD4-CD8- thymocytes, and expression of CD81 on CHO cells endows those cells with the ability to support T cell maturation. However, CD81-deficient mice express normal numbers and subsets of T cells. These mice do exhibit diminished antibody responses to protein antigens. CD81 is also physically and functionally associated with several integrins. Anti-CD81 can activate integrin alpha 4 beta 1 (VLA-4) on B cells, facilitating their adhesion to tonsilar interfollicular stroma. Similarly, anti-CD81 can activate alpha L beta 2 (LFA-1) on human thymocytes. CD81 can also affect cognate B-T cell interactions because anti-CD81 increases IL-4 synthesis by T cells responding to antigen presented by B cells but not by monocytes. The tetraspanin superfamily (or TM4SF) includes CD81, CD9, CD37, CD53, CD63, CD82, CD151, and an increasing number of additional proteins. Like CD81, several tetraspanins are involved in cell adhesion, motility, and metastasis, as well as cell activation and signal transduction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / physiology*
  • Cell Adhesion*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tetraspanin 28


  • Antigens, CD
  • CD81 protein, human
  • Cd81 protein, mouse
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Tetraspanin 28