Class I and class II MHC glycoproteins are highly polymorphic molecules that bind antigenic peptides and present them on cell surfaces for recognition by T lymphocytes. Even though MHC polymorphism has long been known to affect both peptide binding and recognition by the TCR, the role of individual amino acids of MHC proteins in these interactions is poorly understood. To examine the effect of a small number of amino acid residues on T cell stimulation, B lymphoblastoid cell lines homozygous for the closely related DR1 subtypes, Dw1 and Dw20, and the DR4 subtypes, Dw4 and Dw14, were compared for their ability to present an immunogenic influenza hemagglutinin peptide (HA307-319) to an Ag-specific, DR1,4-restricted T cell clone. B cell lines expressing DR1 Dw20 and DR4 Dw14 presented HA307-319 much less efficiently than DR1 Dw1 and DR4 Dw4 and bound a biotinylated analogue of the same peptide less well. Analysis of DRB1 gene sequences suggested that polymorphism at residue 86 had a major effect on peptide binding. Differences in binding of a set of HA307-319 analogues biotinylated at each residue to cells expressing DR1 Dw1 and DR1 Dw20 suggested that the polymorphism affected the interactions of many peptide residues with the class II molecule. In inhibition assays, DR1 Dw1 and DR4 Dw4 were shown to differ from DR1 Dw20 and DR4 Dw14 in their length requirements for peptide binding. Using a larger panel of homozygous B cell lines expressing many class II haplotypes, a Ser-309 substituted HA307-319 analogue was shown to bind to most B cell lines expressing Val-86 containing alleles (including DR1 Dw20 and DR4 Dw14) but failed to bind most B cell lines expressing Gly-86 alleles (including DR1 Dw1 and DR4 Dw4). The results indicated that polymorphism at residue 86 influenced the specificity and affinity of peptide binding and affected the conformation of peptide-DR protein complexes without completely eliminating T cell recognition.

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