GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology



First Thesis Advisor

Lawrence J. Stern PhD


Major Histocompatibility Complex, Histocompatibility Antigens Class I, Histocompatibility Antigens Class II, Genes, MHC Class I, Genes, MHC Class II


This thesis is comprised of studies of proteins involved in class I and class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigen procressing. In class I MHC processing, structural and functional studies were conducted of an aminopeptidase, ERAP1, that mediates the final step in antigen processing to understand how it is particularly suitable for cleavage of antigenic peptides for class I MHC presentation. In the class II MHC antigen presentation pathway, structural studies were conducted to characterize a fluorogenic peptide that can be used to understand peptide loading events in vivo and in real time. Also structural studies of class II MHC and peptide complexes were conducted to understand the nature of an unique C-terminal secondary structure element exhibited by an HIV derived peptide in the peptide binding groove of class II MHC. The studies discussed in this thesis provide insights into the proteins involved in the class I and class II MHC antigen presentation pathway.

The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) aminopeptidase, ERAP1, is a 941 amino acid member of the M1 family of zinc metalloaminopeptidases. Unlike other aminopeptidases, ERAP1 has a length and C-terminal preference for its substrates. Interestingly, ERAP1 has been shown to trim antigenic peptides to lengths of 8 or 9 amino acids long. This length matches the length required to bind into the peptide binding groove of class I MHC molecules. In addition, ERAP1 is upregulated in the ER of cells treated with interferon gamma (IFN-γ). Knock-down of ERAP1 by siRNA results in less overall antigenic presentation during IFN-γ treatment, although the knock-down does not affect all class I MHC epitopes equally. Knock-out studies show that ERAP1 effects the antigen repertoire at the cell surface. These and other data implicate ERAP1 as an important player in class I MHC antigen presentation. A chapter of this thesis will describe the crystallographic work describing the structures of ERAP1 with an aminopeptidase inhibitor, bestatin, and ERAP1 without an inhibitor that suggest possible peptide binding site in ERAP1 that will allow it to generate suitable substrates for a subset of class I MHC alleles.

Class II MHC plays a key role in the immune response by presenting antigenic peptides on CD4+ cytotoxic cell surfaces for T-cell response. The binding of peptides onto the MHC is an important step in creating an immune response. Structures of peptide bound MHC class II show conserved side chain binding pockets within the overall peptide-binding groove. In HLA-DR1, a common human class II MHC, the P1 pocket shows a preference for large hydrophobic side chains. Development of environmentally sensitive peptide analogs, that can bind into the class II MHC the same way as native peptides, can assist in visualizing the antigen binding process. A chapter in this thesis describes the crystallographic work showing that (4-DAPA)-HA can be used to study antigen-presenting processes in a cell by visualizing the changes in fluorescence of the synthesized peptide upon antigen loading.

Crystallographic analysis of MHC class II, HLA-DR1, in complex with HIV gag-derived peptide, GagP16(PEVIPMFSALSEGATP), and superantigen, SEC3- 3B2, reveals the conventional polyproline conformation up to MHC binding pocket residue, P9, while the C-terminus of GagP16 adopts an unusual β- hairpin loop structure. Additionally, interactions between the leucine at P8 (LeuP8) and other residues on the loop such as ThrP16 and AlaP14 of the hairpin loop, was observed. Importantly, GagP16 requires the last 4 amino acids (P13-P16), which is part of the hairpin loop, for T-cell recognition. Understanding what dictates the C-terminal hairpin loop and the interaction motif of HLA-DR1/GagP16 complex with its TCR will provide insights on why it is important for T cell activation. A chapter in this thesis discusses the structural investigation conducted to understand the determinants of the loop at the C-terminus of GagP16 using designed peptides. It will also discuss work involving HLA-DR1 with the T cell receptor, AC25, that was cloned from T cells that are specific to HLA-DR1 in complex with the GagP16 peptide.



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