Native antigen is processed and subsequently presented on the surface of antigen-presenting cells, an important step in the elicitation of an immune response. The early events of antigen processing and presentation include: ingestion of a native antigen, intracellular degradation to expose an antigenic peptide fragment, binding of this fragment with an MHC class II molecule, and display of this newly formed complex on the cell surface. Through the development of a mathematical model, a set of mathematical equations which describes the time-dependent appearance, disappearance, and movement of individual molecules, quantitative insight can be gained into the pathways and rate-limiting steps of antigen presentation. The credibility of the model has been verified by comparison to literature data. For example, it has been shown experimentally that macrophages require 60 min for effective antigen presentation, whereas B cells require 6-8 h. The mathematical model predicts these presentation times and identifies the difference in the cell's respective pinocytic rates and sizes as important parameters. B cells capture antigen in their environment through nonspecific fluid-phase pinocytosis as well as by binding antigen to their surface immunoglobulin, allowing receptor-mediated uptake. Uptake of antigen via receptor-mediated endocytosis has been reported to require 1,000-fold less antigen than uptake via nonspecific pinocytosis. The mathematical model clearly predicts this decrease in concentration. The model also makes quantitative predictions for the number of MHC class II-antigen complexes needed to produce T cell stimulation.

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