The T cell antigen receptor (TCR) is an oligomeric protein complex made from at least six different integral membrane proteins (alpha beta gamma delta epsilon and zeta). The TCR is assembled in the ER of T cells, and correct assembly is required for transport to the cell surface. Single subunits and partial receptor complexes are retained in the ER where TCR alpha, beta, and CD3 delta chains are degraded selectively. The information required for the ER degradation of the TCR beta chain is confined to the membrane anchor of the protein (Wileman et al., 1990c; Bonifacino et al., 1990b). In this study we show that the rapid degradation of the TCR beta chain is inhibited when it assembles with single CD3 gamma, delta, or epsilon subunits in the ER, and have started to define the role played by transmembrane anchors, and receptor ectodomains, in the masking proteolytic targeting information. Acidic residues within the membrane spanning domains of CD3 subunits were essential for binding to the TCR beta chain. TCR beta chains and CD3 subunits therefore interact via transmembrane domains. However, when sites of binding were restricted to the membrane anchor of the TCR beta chain, stabilization by CD3 subunits was markedly reduced. Interactions between membrane spanning domains were not, therefore, sufficient for the protection of the beta chain from ER proteolysis. The presence of the C beta domain, containing the first 150 amino acids of the TCR ectodomain, greatly increased the stability of complexes formed in the ER. For assembly with CD3 epsilon, stability was further enhanced by the V beta amino acids. The results showed that the efficient neutralization of transmembrane proteolytic targeting information required associations between membrane spanning domains and the presence of receptor ectodomains. Interactions between receptor ectodomains may slow the dissociation of CD3 subunits from the beta chain and prolong the masking of transmembrane targeting information. In addition, the close proximity of TCR and CD3 ectodomains within the ER may provide steric protection from the action of proteases within the ER lumen.

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