DNA origami demonstrate the unique stimulatory power of single pMHCs as T cell antigens

Joschka Hellmeier, Rene Platzer, Alexandra S. Eklund, Thomas Schlichthaerle, Andreas Karner, Viktoria Motsch, Magdalena C. Schneider, Elke Kurz, Victor Bamieh, Mario Brameshuber, Johannes Preiner, Ralf Jungmann, Hannes Stockinger, Gerhard J. Schütz, Johannes B. Huppa, Eva Sevcsik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


T cells detect with their T cell antigen receptors (TCRs) the presence of rare agonist peptide/MHC complexes (pMHCs) on the surface of antigen-presenting cells (APCs). How extracellular ligand binding triggers intracellular signaling is poorly understood, yet spatial antigen arrangement on the APC surface has been suggested to be a critical factor. To examine this, we engineered a biomimetic interface based on laterally mobile functionalized DNA origami platforms, which allow for nanoscale control over ligand distances without interfering with the cell-intrinsic dynamics of receptor clustering. When targeting TCRs via stably binding monovalent antibody fragments, we found the minimum signaling unit promoting efficient T cell activation to consist of two antibody-ligated TCRs within a distance of 20 nm. In contrast, transiently engaging antigenic pMHCs stimulated T cells robustly as well-isolated entities. These results identify pairs of antibody-bound TCRs as minimal receptor entities for effective TCR triggering yet validate the exceptional stimulatory potency of single isolated pMHC molecules.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2016857118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2021


  • DNA origami
  • Nanobiotechnology
  • PMHC
  • Serial engagement
  • T cell activation
  • Gene Expression
  • Signal Transduction
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell/chemistry
  • Animals
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes/cytology
  • DNA/chemistry
  • Lipid Bilayers/chemistry
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex/genetics
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells/cytology
  • Phosphatidylcholines/chemistry
  • Single-Chain Antibodies/chemistry
  • Protein Binding
  • Ligands
  • Mice
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Spleen/cytology


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