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J Exp Med. 1997 Aug 4;186(3):393-403.

In vitro translation and assembly of a complete T cell receptor-CD3 complex.

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Center for Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139, USA.


The T cell receptor for antigen (TCR) is a multisubunit complex that consists of at least seven polypeptides: the clonotypic, disulfide-linked alpha/beta heterodimer that is noncovalently associated with the invariant polypeptides of the CD3 complex (CD3-gamma, -delta, -epsilon) and zeta, a disulfide-linked homodimer. We achieved the complete assembly of the human TCR in an in vitro transcription/translation system supplemented with dog pancreas microsomes by simultaneous translation of the messenger RNAs encoding the TCR-alpha, -beta and CD3-gamma, -delta, -epsilon, and -zeta subunits. CD3-epsilon, one of the subunits that initiates the assembly of the TCR in living cells, forms misfolded, disulfide-linked homooligomers when translated alone. However, co-translation of one of its first binding partners in the course of assembly, CD3-gamma or -delta, led to the expression of mainly monomeric and correctly folded epsilon subunits, the only form we could detect as part of a properly assembled TCR complex. In the absence of these subunits, the ER-resident chaperone calnexin interacted with oligomeric, i.e. misfolded, structures of CD3-epsilon in a glycan-independent manner. A glycan-dependent interaction between CD3-epsilon and calnexin was mediated by CD3-gamma and concerned only monomeric CD3-epsilon complexed with CD3-gamma, but was dispensable for proper folding of CD3-epsilon. We suggest that in addition to its signaling function, CD3-epsilon serves as a monitor for proper subunit assembly of the TCR.

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