Self-nonself discrimination by T cells

Science  15 Jun 1990:
Vol. 248, Issue 4961, pp. 1369-1373
DOI: 10.1126/science.1972594


The alpha beta T cell receptor (TCR) recognizes antigens that are presented by major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-encoded cell surface molecules by binding to both the antigen and the MHC molecules. Discrimination of self from nonself antigens and MHC molecules is achieved by negative and positive selection of T cells in the thymus: potentially harmful T cells with receptors that bind to self antigens plus self MHC molecules are deleted before they can mount immune responses. In contrast, the maturation of useful T cells with receptors that bind foreign antigens plus self MHC molecules requires the binding of their receptor to MHC molecules on thymic epithelium in the absence of foreign antigen. The binding of the TCR to either class I or class II MHC molecules directs differentiation of the selected cells into either CD4-8+ (killer) or CD4+8- (helper) T cells, respectively.

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