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J Immunol. 1999 Jun 1;162(11):6401-9.

Induction of T cell anergy by low numbers of agonist ligands.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Graduate Program in Immunology, School of Medicine/Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


Engagement of TCR by its ligand, the MHC/peptide complex, causes T cell activation. T cells respond positively to stimulation with agonists, and are inhibited by antagonist MHC/peptide ligands. Failure to induce proper conformational changes in the TCR or fast TCR/MHC dissociation are the leading models proposed to explain anergy induction by antagonist ligands. In this study, we demonstrate that presentation of between 1 and 10 complexes of agonist/MHC II by unfixed APC induces T cell anergy that persists up to 7 days and has characteristics similar to anergy induced by antagonist ligand or TCR occupancy without costimulation. Furthermore, anergy-inducing doses of hemagglutinin 306-318 peptide led to the engagement of less than 1000 TCR/CD3 complexes. Thus, engagement of a subthreshold number of TCR by either a low density of agonist/MHC or a 2-3 orders of magnitude higher density of antagonist/MHC causes anergy. Moreover, we show that anergy induced by low agonist concentrations is inhibited in the presence of IL-2 or cyclosporin A, suggesting involvement of the calcineurin signaling pathway.

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