We have defined structural features that are apparently important for the binding of four different, unrelated antigenic epitopes to the same major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecule, H-2Kd. The four epitopes are recognized in the form of synthetic peptides by cytotoxic T lymphocytes of the appropriate specificity. By analysis of the relative potency of truncated peptides, we demonstrated that for each of the four epitopes, optimal antigenic activity was present in a peptide of 9 or 10 amino acid residues. A comparison of the relative competitor activity of the different-length peptides in a functional competition assay, as well as in a direct binding assay based on photoaffinity labeling of the Kd molecule, indicated that the enhanced potency of the peptides upon reduction in length was most likely due to a higher affinity of the shorter peptides for the Kd molecule. A remarkably simple motif that appears to be important for the specific binding of Kd-restricted peptides was identified by the analysis of peptides containing amino acid substitutions or deletions. The motif consists of two elements, a Tyr in the second position relative to the NH2 terminus and a hydrophobic residue with a large aliphatic side chain (Leu, Ile, or Val) at the COOH-terminal end of the optimal 9- or 10-mer peptides. We demonstrated that a simple peptide analogue (AYP6L) that incorporates the motif can effectively and specifically interact with the Kd molecule. Moreover, all of the additional Kd-restricted epitopes defined thus far in the literature contain the motif, and it may thus be useful for the prediction of new epitopes recognized by T cells in the context of this MHC class I molecule.

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