Although studies of the association of antigen with APC have been complicated by antigen-processing requirements, recent studies have suggested that immunologically relevant antigen should be present on the APC surface. Nevertheless, blocking of antigen presentation with antibody to the antigen has not been demonstrable in most systems. To study this problem we developed a system using avidin to block presentation of amino-terminal biotinylated synthetic peptide 132-146 of sperm whale myoglobin (B132) to a murine T cell clone specific for this site in association with I-Ed. greater than 95% specific inhibition was observed with doses of B132 equipotent to unmodified peptide. Specific blocking could be observed: (a) after pulsing APC with antigen, washing, and incubating for a chase period of 8-16 h before addition of avidin and T cells to assure adequate time for intracellular trafficking and maximal display of antigen on the cell surface, or (b) when monensin is present during the antigen pulse to inhibit such traffic. Therefore, the inhibition appeared to be occurring at the cell surface unless dissociation and reassociation were constantly occurring. To distinguish these, B10.GD APC (I-Ed-negative) were pulsed with antigen and cocultured with B10.D2 APC (I-Ed-positive). No detectable antigen presentation resulted. Thus, minimal dissociation and reassociation between antigen and APC occurs and, consequently, blocking by extracellular solution-phase binding of avidin to antigen is unlikely. Taken together, these data suggest that the blocking is occurring at the cell surface. Thus, under physiologic conditions, immunologically relevant antigen necessary for T cell activation appears to be present on the APC surface and is freely accessible to macromolecules the size of avidin. These findings hold specific implications for models of antigen presentation for T cell recognition.

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