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Annu Rev Immunol. 1991;9:527-65.

Interactions between immunogenic peptides and MHC proteins.

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ImmuLogic Pharmaceutical Corp., Palo Alto, California 94304.


The MHC class-I and class-II molecules are highly polymorphic membrane proteins, which bind and transport to the surface of cells peptide fragments of intact proteins. The peptide-MHC complexes are recognized by the antigen-specific receptor of T lymphocytes and are the basis by which the cellular immune system distinguishes self from nonself. In order to perform this function, MHC proteins simultaneously display a large spectrum of structurally divergent peptides for a sufficiently long period of time for the T cell repertoire to scan the cell effectively. Consistent with the protein's biological role, the rates of association and dissociation at physiological pH are very slow relative to other known receptor-ligand interactions. The mechanism by which the proteins do this is still poorly understood, but recent experimental results indicate that the rate determining step may be a conformational change that results in the entrapment of the peptide. A variety of binding assays have been developed that allow study of the detailed kinetics and specificity of the interaction. The optimal peptide length for binding is between 8 and 12 amino acids with the central 5-7 residues contributing the majority of the specific contacts. Determining the conformation of bound peptides has been hampered by the inherent ability of the receptor to bind manifold sequences. Consequently, strategies employing monosubstituted analogs have had only limited success. Approaches using biotinylated amino acids and other bulky substituents or multiple substitutions have generated more information. Recent experiments demonstrating that peptides with polyalanine, polyproline, or polyglycine bind well to MHC proteins have proven that the structural requirements for binding are quite minimal. In fact, a significant factor of the selectivity for binding appears to be the avoidance of deleterious contacts, rather than the need for a large number of critical interactions. Binding experiments also have shown that several peptides can bind a large number of MHC class-I and class-II alleles. The degenerate binding indicated that the binding site of MHC proteins must have a significant number of conserved features. Solution of the crystal structures of the MHC class-I alleles A2 and Aw68 has identified a putative antigen-combining site whose overall dimensions were quite similar between the two structures. The detailed surface topology of the site varied between the two alleles due to the size and chemical properties of the side chains of the polymorphic amino acids composing the cleft.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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