Contribution of individual amino acids within MHC molecule or antigenic peptide to TCR ligand potency

Bernhard Hemmer, Clemencia Pinilla, Bruno Gran, Marco Vergelli, Nick Ling, Paul Conlon, Henry F. McFarland, Richard Houghten, Roland Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The TCR recognition of peptides bound to MHC class II molecules is highly flexible in some T cells. Although progress has been made in understanding the interactions within the trimolecular complex, to what extent the individual components and their amino acid composition contribute to ligand recognition by individual T cells is not completely understood. We investigated how single amino acid residues influence Ag recognition of T cells by combining several experimental approaches. We defined TCR motifs for CD4+ T cells using peptide synthetic combinatorial libraries in the positional scanning format (PS-SCL) and single amino acid-modified peptide analogues. The similarity of the TCR motifs defined by both methods and the identification of stimulatory antigenic peptides by the PS-SCL approach argue for a contribution of each amino acid residue to the overall potency of the antigenic peptide ligand. In some instances, however, motifs are formed by adjacent amino acids, and their combined influence is superimposed on the overall contribution of each amino acid within the peptide epitope. In contrast to the flexibility of the TCR to interact with different peptides, recognition was very sensitive toward modifications of the MHC-restriction element. Exchanges of just one amino acid of the MHC molecule drastically reduced the number of peptides recognized. The results indicate that a specific MHC molecule not only selects certain peptides, but also is crucial for setting an affinity threshold for TCR recognition, which determines the flexibility in peptide recognition for a given TCR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)861-871
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2000
Externally publishedYes


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