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Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I complexes present peptides from both self and foreign intracellular proteins on the surface of most nucleated cells. The assembled heterotrimeric complexes consist of a polymorphic glycosylated heavy chain, non-polymorphic beta(2) microglobulin, and a peptide of typically nine amino acids in length. Assembly of the class I complexes occurs in the endoplasmic reticulum and is assisted by a number of chaperone molecules. A multimolecular unit termed the peptide-loading complex (PLC) is integral to this process. The PLC contains a peptide transporter (transporter associated with antigen processing), a thiooxido-reductase (ERp57), a glycoprotein chaperone (calreticulin), and tapasin, a class I-specific chaperone. We suggest that class I assembly involves a process of optimization where the peptide cargo of the complex is edited by the PLC. Furthermore, this selective peptide loading is biased toward peptides that have a longer off-rate from the assembled complex. We suggest that tapasin is the key chaperone that directs this action of the PLC with secondary contributions from calreticulin and possibly ERp57. We provide a framework model for how this may operate at the molecular level and draw parallels with the proposed mechanism of action of human leukocyte antigen-DM for MHC class II complex optimization.

Original publication




Journal article


Immunological reviews

Publication Date





89 - 99


Cancer Sciences Division, University of Southampton School of Medicine, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, UK.


Animals, Humans, Isomerases, Peptides, Immunoglobulins, Calreticulin, Membrane Transport Proteins, Antiporters, Heat-Shock Proteins, Molecular Chaperones, Histocompatibility Antigens Class I, Antigen Presentation, Protein Disulfide-Isomerases