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J Exp Med. 1996 Jan 1;183(1):119-26.

Evidence for a conformational change in a class II major histocompatibility complex molecule occurring in the same pH range where antigen binding is enhanced.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University School of Medicine, California 94305, USA.


Many class II histocompatibility complex molecules bind antigenic peptides optimally at low pH, consistent with their exposure to antigen in acidic endosomal compartments. While it has been suggested that a partially unfolded state serves as an intermediate involved in peptide binding, very little evidence for such a state has been obtained. In this report, we show that the murine class II molecule IE becomes increasingly less stable to sodium dodecyl sulfate-induced dissociation since the pH is decreased in the same range that enhances antigenic peptide binding. Furthermore, at mildly acidic pH levels, IEk binds the fluorescent dye 1-anilino-naphthalene-8-sulfonic acid (ANS), a probe for exposed nonpolar sites in proteins, suggesting that protonation produces a molten globule-like state. The association of IEk with a single high-affinity peptide had only a small effect in these two assays, indicating that the changes that occur are distal to the peptide-binding groove. Circular dichroism analysis shows that a pH shift from neutral to mildly acidic pH causes subtle changes in the environment of aromatic residues but does not grossly disrupt the secondary structure of IEk. We propose a model in which perturbations in interdomain contacts outside the peptide-binding domain of IEk occur at acidic pH, producing a partially unfolded state that facilitates optimal antigen binding.

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