Pre-TCR ligand binding impacts thymocyte development before αβTCR expression.
Author: Robert J Mallis
Journal:Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Adaptive cellular immunity requires accurate self- vs. nonself-discrimination to protect against infections and tumorous transformations while at the same time excluding autoimmunity. This vital capability is programmed in the thymus through selection of αβT-cell receptors (αβTCRs) recognizing peptides bound to MHC molecules (pMHC). Here, we show that the pre-TCR (preTCR), a pTα-β heterodimer appearing before αβTCR expression, directs a previously unappreciated initial phase of repertoire selection. Contrasting with the ligand-independent model of preTCR function, we reveal through NMR and bioforce-probe analyses that the β-subunit binds pMHC using Vβ complementarity-determining regions as well as an exposed hydrophobic Vβ patch characteristic of the preTCR. Force-regulated single bonds akin to those of αβTCRs but with more promiscuous ligand specificity trigger calcium flux. Thus, thymic development involves sequential β- and then, αβ-repertoire tuning, whereby preTCR interactions with self pMHC modulate early thymocyte expansion, with implications for β-selection, immunodominant peptide recognition, and germ line-encoded MHC interaction.