Indexed on: 19 May '05Published on: 19 May '05Published in: Journal of Theoretical Biology
Antigen recognition by T cells is a key event in the adaptive immune response. T cells scan the surface of antigen-presenting cells (APCs) or target cells for specific peptides bound to MHC molecules. In the physiological setting, a typical APC presents tens of thousands of diverse endogenous self-derived peptides complexed to MHC (pMHC complexes). When 'foreign' peptides are presented, they constitute a small fraction of the total surface peptide repertoire. As T cells seem to be capable of discerning minute amounts of 'foreign' peptides among a complex background of self-peptides, endogenous peptides are generally assumed to play no role in recognition. However, recent results suggest that these background peptides may alter the sensitivity of T cells to foreign peptides. Current experimental limitations preclude analysis of peptide mixtures approaching physiological complexity, making it difficult to further address the role of complex background peptides. In this paper, we present a computational model to test how complex, varied peptide populations on an APC could potentially modulate a T cell's ability to detect the presence of small numbers of agonist peptides among a diverse population. We use the model to investigate the notion that under physiological conditions, T cell recognition of foreign peptides is context dependent, that is, T cells process signals gathered from all pMHC interactions, not just from a few agonist peptides while ignoring all others.