In an effort to characterize the ligand that is bound by T helper lymphocyte antigen receptors, we have begun to identify class II polymorphic residues that comprise part of the allospecific TCR binding sites. Site-directed mutagenesis was used to construct mutant Ak beta (Ak beta*) genes that encode polypeptides into which single or multiple residues of the Ad beta polypeptide have been substituted in the beta 1 domain. A panel of cloned cell lines expressing the mutant Ak beta* Ak alpha or Ak beta* Ad alpha molecules was analyzed for the ability to stimulate Ak or Ad alloreactive T cell hybridomas. Substitution of d for k residues at specific positions in the beta 1 domain resulted not only in the loss of epitopes recognized by Ak-reactive T cells but, more importantly, in the gain of epitopes recognized by Ad-reactive T cells. Some of the polymorphic residues identified as contributing to the T cell epitopes are the same residues that contribute to the serologically immunodominant epitope. Other T cell epitopes map to positions predicted to be located either in an alpha-helix forming one side, or in a beta-pleated sheet forming the bottom of the putative antigen binding site. Thus, unlike serologic epitopes, TCR epitopes can be determined by A beta polymorphic residues in many different regions of the beta 1 domain and frequently depend upon contributions of A alpha polymorphic residues.

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