The interaction of antigen-specific T cell receptors (TCRs) with their ligands, peptides bound to molecules of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), is central to most immune responses, yet little is known about its chemical characteristics. The binding to T cells of a labeled monoclonal antibody to the TCR was inhibited by soluble class II MHC heterodimers complexed to different peptides. Inhibition was both peptide- and TCR-specific and of low affinity, with a KD = 4 x 10(-5) to 6 x 10(-5) M, orders of magnitude weaker than comparable antibody-antigen interactions. This finding is consistent with the scanning nature of T cell recognition and suggests that antigen-independent adhesion precedes TCR engagement.

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