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J Immunol. 2004 Feb 1;172(3):1926-34.

Metal-protein complex-mediated transport and delivery of Ni2+ to TCR/MHC contact sites in nickel-specific human T cell activation.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Immunbiologie, Freiburg, Germany.


Nickel allergy clearly involves the activation of HLA-restricted, skin-homing, Ni-specific T cells by professional APCs. Nevertheless, knowledge concerning the molecular details of metal-protein interactions underlying the transport and delivery of metal ions to APC during the early sensitization phase and their interactions with HLA and TCRs is still fragmentary. This study investigates the role of human serum albumin (HSA), a known shuttling molecule for Ni(2+) and an often-disregarded, major component of skin, in these processes. We show that Ni-saturated HSA complexes (HSA-Ni) induce and activate Ni-specific human T cells as potently as Ni salt solutions when present at equimolar concentrations classically used for in vitro T cell stimulation. However, neither HSA itself nor its Ni-binding N-terminal peptide are involved in determining the specificity of antigenic determinants. In fact, HSA could be replaced by xenogeneic albumins exhibiting sufficient affinity for Ni(2+) as determined by surface plasmon resonance (Biacore technology) or atomic absorption spectroscopy. Moreover, despite rapid internalization of HSA-Ni by APC, it was not processed into HLA-associated epitopes recognizable by Ni-specific T cells. In contrast, the presence of HSA-Ni in the vicinity of transient contacts between TCR and APC-exposed HLA molecules appeared to facilitate a specific transfer of Ni(2+) from HSA to high-affinity coordination sites created at the TCR/HLA-interface.

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