Billy Rittase

Position: Graduate Student


B.S. Mechanical Engineering 2010, Bucknell University


My research interests are in the T cell receptor (TCR) initial triggering and signaling events behind antigen recognition. T cells are able to recognize as few as a single antigenic peptide presented on the surface of an antigen presenting cell amongst a sea of thousands of self peptides and elicit a response through their TCRs. The recognition process must therefore be extremely sensitive to recognize such few amounts of antigen, as well as extremely specific as to not elicit a response to non-antigen peptides which can lead to inappropriate immune responses such as autoimmune disorders. One hypothesis is that TCRs may remember antigen binding after dissociation and upregulate their ability to continue interactions with an antigenic peptide to induce a response, thereby increasing their sensitivity to the interaction; additionally, mechanical forces may prolong the interaction in an antigen specific manner to increase specificity. The micropipette and cyclic mechanical reinforcement assays are able to probe a very small number of molecular interactions and control the time scales at which they interact. Using these assays to investigate the TCR-MHC interaction in combination with stochastic computational models, we hope to shed some light on the mechanisms which underlie the extreme specificity and sensitivity in TCR antigen recognition.


Internship experience?