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J Biol Chem. 2010 Nov 12;285(46):35303-10. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M110.147793. Epub 2010 Sep 10.

Distinct MHC class II molecules are associated on the dendritic cell surface in cholesterol-dependent membrane microdomains.

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Experimental Immunology Branch, NCI, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Very small amounts of MHC class II-peptide complexes expressed on the surface of antigen-presenting cells (APCs) are capable of stimulating antigen-specific CD4 T cells. There is intense interest to elucidate the molecular mechanisms by which these small amounts of MHC-II can cluster, cross-link T cell receptors, and promote T cell proliferation. We now demonstrate that a significant fraction of the total pool of MHC-II molecules on the surface of dendritic cells is physically associated in macromolecular aggregates. These MHC-II/MHC-II interactions have been probed by co-immunoprecipitation analysis of the MHC-II I-A molecule with the related I-E molecule. These molecular associations are maintained in gentle detergents but are disrupted in harsh detergents such as Triton X-100. MHC-II I-A/I-E interactions are disrupted when plasma membrane cholesterol is extracted using methyl β-cyclodextrin, suggesting that lipid raft microdomains are important mediators of these MHC-II interactions. Although it has been proposed that tetraspanin proteins regulate molecular clustering, aggregation, and co-immunoprecipitation in APCs, genetic deletion of the tetraspanin family members CD9 or CD81 had no effect on MHC-II I-A/I-E binding. These data demonstrate that the presence of distinct forms of MHC-II with plasma membrane lipid rafts is required for MHC-II aggregation in APCs and provides a molecular mechanism allowing dendritic cells expressing small amounts of MHC-II-peptide complexes to cross-link and stimulate CD4 T cells.

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