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Mol Immunol. 2006 Mar;43(9):1349-57. Epub 2005 Oct 7.

Antagonism of HIV-specific CD4+ T cells by C-terminal truncation of a minimum epitope.

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  • 1Blood Systems Research Institute, Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of California, 270 Masonic Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA.


Antagonism of T cell responses by variants of the cognate peptide is a potential mechanism of viral escape from immune responses and may play a role in the ability of HIV to evade immune control. We show here a rarely described mechanism of antagonism by a peptide shorter than the minimum length epitope for an HIV p24-specific CD4+ T cell clone. The shorter antagonist peptide-MHC complex bound the T cell receptor (TCR), albeit with lower affinity than the full-length agonist peptide. Prior work showing the crystal structure of the peptide-MHC complex revealed a unique glycine hinge near the C-terminus of the agonist peptide, allowing the generation of full-length antagonist peptide lacking the hinge. These results confirm the dependence of productive TCR engagement on residues spilling out from the C-terminus of the MHC binding groove and show that partial engagement of the TCR with a truncated, low-affinity ligand can result in T cell antagonism.

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