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Semin Immunol. 1995 Dec;7(6):389-98.

The structure of MHC class II: a role for dimer of dimers.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.


The MHC class II molecules, expressed by antigen presenting cells, are heterodimers composed of an alpha and a beta chain, which function to present processed antigen to helper T cells. The human MHC class II molecules, HLA-DR1 and HLA-DR3, crystallized not as monomers, but rather dimers of alpha beta heterodimers. The 'dimer of dimers' or 'superdimer' structure led to speculation that the binding of T-cell receptors to monomeric class II molecules on the antigen presenting cell surface may affect dimerization and thus initiate signaling both in the T cell and in the antigen presenting cell. Recent biochemical analyses of the mouse MHC class II Ek molecule provide evidence that dimers of class II heterodimers form in the absence of T cells. Although such dimers were shown to augment T-cell stimulation, the dimerization of class II molecules alone is unlikely to initiate signal transduction. However, dimers may be important in stabilizing weak T-cell receptor/CD4/class II interactions, allowing further multimerization of such complexes, leading to signaling.

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