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The T Cell Antigen Receptor α Transmembrane Domain Coordinates Triggering through Regulation of Bilayer Immersion and CD3 Subunit Associations


Brazin K.N. , Mallis R.J. , Boeszoermenyi A. , Feng Y. , Yoshizawa A. , Reche P.A. , Kaur P. , Bi K. , Hessey R.E. , Duke-Cohan J.S. , Song L. , Wagner G. , Arthanari H. , Lang M.J. , Reinherz E.L. . Immunity. 2018 ; 49(5). 829-841


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Initial molecular details of cellular activation following αβT cell antigen receptor (TCR) ligation by peptide-major histocompatibility complexes (pMHC) remain unexplored. We determined the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) structure of the TCRα subunit transmembrane (TM) domain revealing a bipartite helix whose segmentation fosters dynamic movement. Positively charged TM residues Arg251 and Lys256 project from opposite faces of the helix, with Lys256 controlling immersion depth. Their modification caused stepwise reduction in TCR associations with CD3ζζ homodimers and CD3εγ plus CD3εδ heterodimers, respectively, leading to an activated transcriptome. Optical tweezers revealed that Arg251 and Lys256 mutations altered αβTCR-pMHC bond lifetimes, while mutations within interacting TCRα connecting peptide and CD3δ CxxC motif juxtamembrane elements selectively attenuated signal transduction. Our findings suggest that mechanical forces applied during pMHC ligation initiate T cell activation via a dissociative mechanism, shifting disposition of those basic sidechains to rearrange TCR complex membrane topology and weaken TCRαβ and CD3 associations.