Subtle conformational changes induced in major histocompatibility complex class II molecules by binding peptides
Intracellular trafficking of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules is characterized by passage through specialized endocytic compartment(s) where antigenic peptides replace invariant chain fragments in the presence of the DM protein. These changes are accompanied by structural transitions of the MHC molecules that can be visualized by formation of compact SDS-resistant dimers, by changes in binding of mAbs, and by changes in T cell responses. We have observed that a mAb (25-9-17) that is capable of staining I-Ab on the surface of normal B cells failed to interact with I-Ab complexes with a peptide derived from the Ealpha chain of the I-E molecule but bound a similar covalent complex of I-Ab with the class II binding fragment (class II-associated invariant chain peptides) of the invariant chain. Moreover, 25-9-17 blocked activation of several I-Ab-reactive T cell hybridomas but failed to block others, suggesting that numerous I-Ab-peptide complexes acquire the 25-9-17(+) or 25-9-17(-) conformation. Alloreactive T cells were also able to discriminate peptide-dependent variants of MHC class II molecules. Thus, peptides impose subtle structural transitions upon MHC class II molecules that affect T cell recognition and may thus be critical for T cell selection and autiommunity.