Peptide binding by class II major histocompatibility complex proteins is generally enhanced at low pH in the range of hydrogen ion concentrations found in the endosomal compartments of antigen-presenting cells. We and others have proposed that class II molecules undergo a reversible conformational change at low pH that is associated with enhanced peptide loading. However, no one has previously provided direct evidence for a structural change in class II proteins in the mildly acidic pH conditions in which enhanced peptide binding is observed. In this study, susceptibility to denaturation induced by sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) detergent or heat was used to probe the conformation of class II at different hydrogen ion concentrations. Class II molecules became sensitive to denaturation at pH 5.5-6.5 depending on the allele and experimental conditions. The observed structural transition was fully reversible if acidic pH was neutralized before exposure to SDS or heat. Experiments with the environment-sensitive fluorescent probe ANS (8-anilino-1-naphthalene-sulfonic acid) provided further evidence for a reversible structural transition at mildly acidic pH associated with an increase in exposed hydrophobicity in class II molecules. IAd conformation was found to change at a higher pH than IEd, IEk, or IAk, which correlates with the different pH optimal for peptide binding by these molecules. We conclude that pH regulates peptide binding by influencing the structure of class II molecules.

This content is only available as a PDF.