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Immunol Rev. 2013 Jan;251(1):13-20. doi: 10.1111/imr.12019.

Organization of the resting TCR in nanoscale oligomers.

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Department of Molecular Immunology, Institute of Biology III, Faculty of Biology, BIOSS Centre for Biological Signaling Studies, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.


Despite the low affinity of the T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) for its peptide/major histocompatibility complex (pMHC) ligand, T cells are very sensitive to their antigens. This paradox can be resolved if we consider that the TCR may be organized into pre-existing oligomers or nanoclusters. Such structures could improve antigen recognition by increasing the functional affinity (avidity) of the TCR-pMHC interaction and by allowing cooperativity between individual TCRs. Up to approximately 20 TCRs become tightly apposed in these nanoclusters, often in a linear manner, and such structures could reflect a relatively generalized phenomenon: the non-random concentration of membrane receptors in specific areas of the plasma membrane known as protein islands. The association of TCRs into nanoclusters can explain the enhanced kinetics of the pMHC-TCR interaction in two dimensional versus three dimensional systems, but also their existence calls for a revision of the TCR triggering models based on pMHC-induced TCR clustering. Interestingly, the B-cell receptor and the FcεRI have also been shown to form nanoclusters, suggesting that the formation of pre-existing receptor oligomers could be widely used in the immune system.

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