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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 Mar 22;271(1539):609-16.

Activation-threshold tuning in an affinity model for the T-cell repertoire.

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  • 1Theoretical Biology/Bioinformatics, Utrecht University, Padualaan 8, 3584 CH Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Naive T cells respond to peptides from foreign proteins and remain tolerant to self peptides from endogenous proteins. It has been suggested that self tolerance comes about by a 'tuning' mechanism, i.e. by increasing the T-cell activation threshold upon interaction with self peptides. Here, we explore how such an adaptive mechanism of T-cell tolerance would influence the reactivity of the T-cell repertoire to foreign peptides. We develop a computer simulation model in which T cells are tolerized by increasing their activation-threshold dependent on the affinity with which they see self peptides presented in the thymus. Thus, different T cells acquire different activation thresholds (i.e. different cross-reactivities). In previous mathematical models, T-cell tolerance was deletional and based on a fixed cross-reactivity parameter, which was assumed to have evolved to an optimal value. Comparing these two different tolerance-induction mechanisms, we found that the tuning model performs somewhat better than an optimized deletion model in terms of the reactivity to foreign antigens. Thus, evolutionary optimization of clonal cross-reactivity is not required. A straightforward extension of the tuning model is to delete T-cell clones that obtain a too high activation threshold, and to replace these by new clones. The reactivity of the immune repertoires of such a replacement model is enchanced compared with the basic tuning model. These results demonstrate that activation-threshold tuning is a functional mechanism for self tolerance induction.

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