Classical MHC class I molecules open a window into the cell by presenting intracellular peptides (pMHC I) on the surface. The peptides are used for immune surveillance by circulating CD8+ T and NK cells to detect and eliminate infected or tumor cells. Not surprisingly, viruses and tumor cells have evolved immune evasion mechanisms to keep the window shades down and the cytotoxic cells oblivious to their presence. Here, we review counter mechanisms that nevertheless allow the immune system to detect and eliminate cells unable to properly process antigenic peptides in the endoplasmic reticulum.
Effective CD8(+) T cell responses depend on presentation of a stable peptide repertoire by MHC class I (MHC I) molecules on the cell surface. The overall quality of peptide-MHC I complexes (pMHC I) is determined by poorly understood mechanisms that generate and load peptides with appropriate consensus motifs onto MHC I. In this article, we show that both tapasin (Tpn), a key component of the peptide loading complex, and the endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase associated with Ag processing (ERAAP) are quintessential editors of distinct structural features of the peptide repertoire. We carried out reciprocal immunization of wild-type mice with cells from Tpn- or ERAAP-deficient mice. Specificity analysis of T cell responses showed that absence of Tpn or ERAAP independently altered the peptide repertoire by causing loss as well as gain of new pMHC I. Changes in amino acid sequences of MHC-bound peptides revealed that ERAAP and Tpn, respectively, defined the characteristic amino and carboxy termini of canonical MHC I peptides. Thus, the optimal pMHC I repertoire is produced by two distinct peptide editing steps in the endoplasmic reticulum.
The ER aminopeptidase associated with antigen processing, ERAAP (or ERAP1), is essential for trimming peptides that are presented by MHC class I molecules. ERAP1 is inhibited by human cytomegalovirus, and ERAP1 polymorphisms are associated with autoimmune diseases. How the immune system detects ERAAP dysfunction, however, is unknown. We have shown previously that ERAAP-deficient cells present an immunogenic pMHC I repertoire, that elicits CD8+ T cell response in WT mice. Additionally, we discovered that the WT CD8+ T cells recognized novel peptides presented by non-classical, or MHC class Ib, molecules on ERAAP-deficient cells. The MHC Ib restricted WT CD8 T cells eliminated ERAAP-deficient cells in vitro and in vivo. We identified the FL9 peptide, presented by Qa-1(b), a MHC class Ib molecule exclusively on ERAAP-deficient cells. Remarkably, T cells specific for the FL9-Qa-1(b) complex were frequent in naïve WT mice, and had an antigen-experienced phenotype. Thus, novel non-classical pQa-1(b) complexes direct cytotoxic T cells to target cells with defective peptide processing in the endoplasmic reticulum. Here, we discuss the implications of our findings, and the possible roles of pMHC Ib-specific T cells in immune surveillance for ERAAP dysfunction.
The MHC class I (MHC-I) molecules ferry a cargo of peptides to the cell surface as potential ligands for CD8(+) cytotoxic T cells. For nearly 20 years, the cargo has been described as a collection of short 8-9 mer peptides, whose length and sequences were believed to be primarily determined by the peptide-binding groove of MHC-I molecules. Yet the mechanisms for producing peptides of such optimal length and composition have remained unclear. In this study, using mass spectrometry, we determined the amino acid sequences of a large number of naturally processed peptides in mice lacking the endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase associated with Ag processing (ERAAP). We find that ERAAP-deficiency changed the oeuvre and caused a marked increase in the length of peptides normally presented by MHC-I. Furthermore, we observed similar changes in the length of viral peptides recognized by CD8(+) T cells in mouse CMV-infected ERAAP-deficient mice. In these mice, a distinct CD8(+) T cell population was elicited with specificity for an N-terminally extended epitope. Thus, the characteristic length, as well as the composition of MHC-I peptide cargo, is determined not only by the MHC-I peptide-binding groove but also by ERAAP proteolysis in the endoplasmic reticulum.
Certain glycolipid Ags for Valpha14i NKT cells can direct the overall cytokine balance of the immune response. Th2-biasing OCH has a lower TCR avidity than the most potent agonist known, alpha-galactosylceramide. Although the CD1d-exposed portions of OCH and alpha-galactosylceramide are identical, structural analysis indicates that there are subtle CD1d conformational differences due to differences in the buried lipid portion of these two Ags, likely accounting for the difference in antigenic potency. Th1-biasing C-glycoside/CD1d has even weaker TCR interactions than OCH/CD1d. Despite this, C-glycoside caused a greater downstream activation of NK cells to produce IFN-gamma, accounting for its promotion of Th1 responses. We found that this difference correlated with the finding that C-glycoside/CD1d complexes survive much longer in vivo. Therefore, we suggest that the pharmacokinetic properties of glycolipids are a major determinant of cytokine skewing, suggesting a pathway for designing therapeutic glycolipids for modulating invariant NKT cell responses.
The aminopeptidase ERAAP is essential for trimming peptides presented by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules. Inhibition of ERAAP by cytomegalovirus results in evasion of the immune response by this virus, and polymorphisms in ERAAP are associated with autoimmune disorders. How normal ERAAP function is monitored is unknown. We found that inhibition of ERAAP rapidly induced presentation of the peptide FYAEATPML (FL9) by the MHC class Ib molecule Qa-1(b). Antigen-experienced T cells specific for the Qa-1(b)-FL9 complex were frequent in naive mice. Wild-type mice immunized with ERAAP-deficient cells mounted a potent CD8(+) T cell response specific for Qa-1(b)-FL9. MHC class Ib-restricted cytolytic effector cells specifically eliminated ERAAP-deficient cells in vitro and in vivo. Thus, nonclassical Qa-1(b)-peptide complexes direct cytotoxic T cells to targets with defective antigen processing in the endoplasmic reticulum.
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