Immunoglobulins are highly diverse protein sequences that are processed and presented to T-cells by B-cells and other antigen presenting cells. We examined a large dataset of immunoglobulin heavy chain variable regions (IGHV) to assess the diversity of T-cell exposed motifs (TCEMs). TCEM comprise those amino acids in a MHC-bound peptide, which face outwards, surrounded by the MHC histotope, and which engage the T-cell receptor. Within IGHV there is a distinct pattern of predicted MHC class II binding and a very high frequency of re-use of the TCEMs. The re-use frequency indicates that only a limited number of different cognate T-cells are required to engage many different clonal B-cells. The amino acids in each outward-facing TCEM are intercalated with the amino acids of inward-facing MHC groove-exposed motifs (GEM). Different GEM may have differing, allele-specific, MHC binding affinities. The intercalation of TCEM and GEM in a peptide allows for a vast combinatorial repertoire of epitopes, each eliciting a different response. Outcome of T-cell receptor binding is determined by overall signal strength, which is a function of the number of responding T-cells and the duration of engagement. Hence, the frequency of TCEM re-use appears to be an important determinant of whether a T-cell response is stimulatory or suppressive. The frequency distribution of TCEMs implies that somatic hypermutation is followed by T-cell clonal expansion that develops along repeated pathways. The observations of TCEM and GEM derived from immunoglobulins suggest a relatively simple, yet powerful, mechanism to correlate T-cell polyspecificity, through re-use of TCEMs, with a very high degree of specificity achieved by combination with a diversity of GEMs. The frequency profile of TCEMs also points to an economical mechanism for maintaining T-cell memory, recall, and self-discrimination based on an endogenously generated profile of motifs.
Bremel, R. D., & Homan, E. J. (2014). Frequency patterns of T-cell exposed amino acid motifs in immunoglobulin heavy chain peptides presented by MHCs. Frontiers in Immunology, 5(OCT). https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2014.00541