One of the main goals in T cell biology has been to investigate how TCR recognition of peptide:MHC (pMHC) determines T cell phenotype and fate. Ag recognition is required to facilitate survival, expansion, and effector function of T cells. Historically, TCR affinity for pMHC has been used as a predictor for T cell fate and responsiveness, but there have now been several examples of nonfunctional high-affinity clones and low-affinity highly functional clones. Recently, more attention has been paid to the TCR being a mechanoreceptor where the key biophysical determinant is TCR bond lifetime under force. As outlined in this review, the fundamental parameters between the TCR and pMHC that control Ag recognition and T cell triggering are affinity, bond lifetime, and the amount of force at which the peak lifetime occurs.

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