The dominant T cell determinant on moth and pigeon cytochromes c in B10.A (E beta k:E alpha k) mice is located in the C-terminal portion of the protein, contained within residues 93-103 or 93-104. Thirty-seven antigen analogs, containing single amino acid substitutions at positions 98, 99, 101, 102, 103, and 104, were synthesized. The effects of the substitutions on in vitro antigenicity and in vivo immunogenicity were determined. Functional assays with T cell clones identified residues 99, 101, 102, and 103 as critical, based on their effect on antigenic potency. Peptides containing substitutions at residues 99, 101, and 102 were capable of eliciting unique clones upon immunization of B10.A mice. This was consistent with the identification of these residues as part of the epitope, the site on the antigen that interacts with the T cell receptor. Immunization with peptides substituted at residue 103, however, failed to elicit clones with unique specificity for the immunogen. When these peptides were tested for their ability to stimulate the T cell clones with antigen-presenting cells from B10.A(5R) mice expressing the E beta b:E alpha k Ia molecule, a consistent change in the relative antigenic potency was observed with 50% of the peptides. The effect of the Ia molecule on the antigenic potency ruled out the possibility that residue 103 nonspecifically affected antigen uptake or processing and identified residue 103 as part of the agretope, the site that interacts with the Ia molecule. The locations of the agretope and the epitope on this antigenic determinant appear to be fixed, even in the presence of large numbers of amino acid substitutions. However, some substitutions were found to affect both the agretope and the epitope, placing limits on the functional independence of the two sites. The results are discussed in terms of the trimolecular complex model of T cell activation and the implications of these data for antigen-Ia molecule interactions.

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