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J Exp Med. 1996 May 1;183(5):2109-17.

Qualitative and quantitative contributions of the T cell receptor zeta chain to mature T cell apoptosis.

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Laboratory of Immunology, National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Engagement of the T cell receptor (TCR) of mature T lymphocytes can lead either to activation/proliferation responses or programmed cell death. To understand the molecular regulation of these two fundamentally different outcomes of TCR signaling, we investigated the participation of various components of the TCR-CD3 complex. We found that the TCR-zeta chain, while not absolutely required, was especially effective at promoting mature T cell apoptosis compared with the CD3 epsilon, gamma, or delta chains. We also carried out mutagenesis to address the role of the immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motifs (ITAMs) that are the principal signaling components found three times in the TCR-zeta chain and once in each of the CD3 epsilon, gamma, or delta chains. We found that the ability of the TCR-zeta chain to promote apoptosis results both from a quantitative effect of the presence of multiple ITAMs as well as qualitatively different contributions made by individual ITAMs. Apoptosis induced by single chain chimeras revealed that the first zeta ITAM stimulated greater apoptosis than the third zeta ITAM, and the second zeta ITAM was unable to trigger apoptosis. Because microheterogeneity in the amino acid sequence of the various ITAM motifs found in the TCR-zeta and CD3 chains predicts interactions with distinct src-homology-2-domain signaling proteins, our results suggest the possibility that individual ITAM motifs might play unique roles in TCR responses by engaging specific signaling pathways.

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