The process of antigen recognition depends in part on the amount of peptide antigen available and the affinity of the T cell receptor for a particular peptide-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecule complex. The availability of self antigen is limited by antigen processing, which is compartmentalized such that peptide antigens presented by MHC class I molecules originate in the cytoplasm, whereas peptide antigens presented by MHC class II molecules are acquired from the endocytic pathway. This segregation of the antigen-processing pathways may limit the diversity of antigens that influence the development and selection of, e.g., CD4-positive, MHC class II-specific T cells. Selection in this case might involve only a subset of self-encoded proteins, specifically those that are plasma membrane bound or secreted. To study these aspects of immune development, we engineered pigeon cytochrome for expression in transgenic mice in two forms: one in which it was expressed as a type II plasma membrane protein, and a second in which it was targeted to the mitochondria after cytoplasmic synthesis. Experiments with these mice clearly show that tolerance is induced in the thymus, irrespective of antigen compartmentation. Using radiation bone marrow chimeras, we further show that cytoplasmic/mitochondrial antigen gains access to the MHC class II pathway by direct presentation. As a result of studying the anatomy of the thymus, we show that the amount of antigen and the affinity of the TCR affect the location and time point of thymocytes under-going apoptosis.

This content is only available as a PDF.