The response exhibited by the immune system to viral and other foreign antigens consists of antibody-mediated and T cell-mediated immunity. Structural and molecular biological studies have shown that the antibody response is tailored to provide exquisite specificity by generating binding pockets that are complementary in shape as well as in charge to the antigen. On the other hand, the cellular response uses T-cell receptors (TCRs) and the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigens. Structural information on the TCRs is not yet available, but the crystal structures of several MHC class I molecules have shown how one MHC molecule can bind many different peptide sequences that share only the common anchor residue positions that determine allele specificity. MHC class I interactions with the peptide backbone at the N and C termini explain the high specificity of the binding groove for peptide ligands and suggest a universal mode of recognition for peptides to MHC class I molecules. Peptide-MHC class II interactions are less well understood, although recent structural work has shown important differences in the binding clefts of MHC class I and II that lead to longer peptides being bound to class II molecules. Detailed analysis at the molecular level has indicated that conformational changes in both antibodies and MHC molecules occur upon antigen binding. However, antibodies appear to undergo these changes in order to create or enhance the complementarity of a binding site for a given antigen, whereas the smaller conformational differences in the MHC molecules depend on the bound sequence and may be used to enhance the specificity of recognition for any given viral peptide by the T-cell receptor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-162
Number of pages8
JournalInfectious agents and disease
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 1994


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