Antigen three-dimensional structure guides the processing and presentation of helper T-cell epitopes

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Antigen three-dimensional structure potentially controls presentation of CD4+ T-cell epitopes by limiting the access of proteolytic enzymes and MHC class II antigen-presenting proteins. The protease-sensitive mobile loops of Hsp10s from mycobacteria, Escherichia coli, and bacteriophage T4 (T4Hsp10) are associated with adjacent immunodominant helper T-cell epitopes, and a mobile-loop deletion in T4Hsp10 eliminated the protease sensitivity and the associated epitope immunodominance. In the present work, protease-sensitivity and epitope presentation was analyzed in a group of T4Hsp10 variants. Two mobile-loop sequence variants of T4Hsp10 were constructed by replacing different segments of the mobile loop with an irrelevant sequence from hen egg lysozyme. The variant proteins retained native-like structure, and the mobile loops retained protease sensitivity. Mobile-loop deletion and reconstruction affected the presentation of two epitopes according to whether the epitope was protease-independent or protease-dependent. The protease-independent epitope lies within the mobile loop, and the protease-dependent epitope lies in a well-ordered segment on the carboxy-terminal flank of the mobile loop. The results are consistent with a model for processing of the protease-dependent epitope in which an endoproteolytic nick in the mobile-loop unlocks T4Hsp10 three-dimensional structure, and then the epitope becomes available for binding to the MHC protein.

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