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Cell. 2004 May 28;117(5):677-87.

Polysaccharide processing and presentation by the MHCII pathway.

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  • 1Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham & Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The adaptive immune system functions through the combined action of antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and T cells. Specifically, class I major histocompatibility complex antigen presentation to CD8(+) T cells is limited to proteosome-generated peptides from intracellular pathogens while the class II (MHCII) endocytic pathway presents only proteolytic peptides from extracellular pathogens to CD4(+) T cells. Carbohydrates have been thought to stimulate immune responses independently of T cells; however, zwitterionic polysaccharides (ZPSs) from the capsules of some bacteria can activate CD4(+) T cells. Here we show that ZPSs are processed to low molecular weight carbohydrates by a nitric oxide-mediated mechanism and presented to T cells through the MHCII endocytic pathway. Furthermore, these carbohydrates bind to MHCII inside APCs for presentation to T cells. Our observations begin to elucidate the mechanisms by which some carbohydrates induce important immunologic responses through T cell activation, suggesting a fundamental shift in the MHCII presentation paradigm.

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