Small organic compounds enhance antigen-loading of class II MHC proteins by targeting the polymorphic P1 pocket


  • S. Hoepner
  • K. Dickhaut
  • M. Hofstaetter
  • H. Kraemer
  • D. Rueckerl
  • J.A. Soederhaell
  • S. Gupta
  • V. Marin-Esteban
  • R. Kuehne
  • C. Freund
  • G. Jung
  • K. Falk
  • O. Roetzschke


  • Journal of Biological Chemistry


  • J Biol Chem 281 (50): 38535-38542


  • MHC molecules are a key element of the cellular immune response. Encoded by the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) they are a family of highly polymorphic peptide receptors presenting peptide antigens for the surveillance by T cells. We have shown that certain organic compounds can amplify immune responses by catalyzing the peptide-loading of human class II MHC molecules HLA-DR. Here we show now that they achieve this by interacting with a defined binding site of the HLA-DR peptide receptor. Screening of a compound library revealed a set of adamantane derivatives that strongly accelerated the peptide-loading rate. The effect was evident only for an allelic subset and strictly correlated with the presence of glycine at the dimorphic position ss86 of the HLA-DR molecule. The residue forms the floor of the conserved pocket P1, located in the peptide binding site of MHC molecule. Apparently, transient occupation of this pocket by the organic compound stabilizes the peptide-receptive conformation permitting rapid antigen loading. This interaction appeared restricted to the larger ss86G-pocket and allowed striking enhancements of T cell responses for antigens presented by these 'adamantyl-susceptible' MHC molecules. As catalysts of antigen-loading, compounds targeting P1 may be useful molecular tools to amplify the immune response. The observation, however, that the ligand repertoire can be affected through polymorphic sites form the outside may also imply that environmental factors could induce allergic or autoimmune reactions in an allele-selective manner.