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The T cell receptor (TCR) expressed by T lymphocytes initiates protective immune responses to pathogens and tumors. To explore the structural basis of how TCR signaling is initiated when the receptor binds to peptide-loaded major histocompatibility complex (pMHC) molecules, we used cryogenic electron microscopy to determine the structure of a tumor-reactive TCRαβ/CD3δγε2ζ2 complex bound to a melanoma-specific human class I pMHC at 3.08 Å resolution. The antigen-bound complex comprises 11 subunits stabilized by multivalent interactions across three structural layers, with clustered membrane-proximal cystines stabilizing the CD3-εδ and CD3-εγ heterodimers. Extra density sandwiched between transmembrane helices reveals the involvement of sterol lipids in TCR assembly. The geometry of the pMHC/TCR complex suggests that efficient TCR scanning of pMHC requires accurate pre-positioning of T cell and antigen-presenting cell membranes. Comparisons of the ligand-bound and unliganded receptors, along with molecular dynamics simulations, indicate that TCRs can be triggered in the absence of spontaneous structural rearrangements.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





3201 - 3213.e19


Institute of Biochemistry, Biocenter, Goethe University Frankfurt, Max-von-Laue-Str. 9, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.


Humans, Neoplasms, Peptides, Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta, Major Histocompatibility Complex, Protein Binding