Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 71, Issue 16, pp 3059–3068 | Cite as

T cell receptor bias for MHC: co-evolution or co-receptors?

  • Sneha Rangarajan
  • Roy A. MariuzzaEmail author


In contrast to antibodies, which recognize antigens in native form, αβ T cell receptors (TCRs) only recognize antigens as peptide fragments bound to MHC molecules, a feature known as MHC restriction. The mechanism by which MHC restriction is imposed on the TCR repertoire is an unsolved problem that has generated considerable debate. Two principal models have been advanced to explain TCR bias for MHC. According to the germline model, MHC restriction is intrinsic to TCR structure because TCR and MHC molecules have co-evolved to conserve germline-encoded TCR sequences with the ability to bind MHC, while eliminating TCR sequences lacking MHC reactivity. According to the selection model, MHC restriction is not intrinsic to TCR structure, but is imposed by the CD4 and CD8 co-receptors that promote signaling by delivering the Src tyrosine kinase Lck to TCR–MHC complexes through co-receptor binding to MHC during positive selection. Here, we review the evidence for and against each model and conclude that both contribute to determining TCR specificity, although their relative contributions remain to be defined. Thus, TCR bias for MHC reflects not only germline-encoded TCR–MHC interactions but also the requirement to form a ternary complex with the CD4 or CD8 co-receptor that is geometrically competent to deliver a maturation signal to double-positive thymocytes during T cell selection.


T cell receptor MHC restriction CD4 CD8 T cell selection Evolution Structure 



Complementarity-determining region


Immunoreceptor tyrosine activation motif




T cell receptor



This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (AI036900 and AI073654) to R.A.M.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.W.M. Keck Laboratory for Structural BiologyUniversity of Maryland Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology ResearchRockvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Cell Biology and Molecular GeneticsUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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