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Rational design of T cell receptors with enhanced sensitivity for antigen.


Enhancing the affinity of therapeutic T cell receptors (TCR) without altering their specificity is a significant challenge for adoptive immunotherapy. Current efforts have primarily relied on empirical approaches. Here, we used structural analyses to identify a glycine-serine variation in the TCR that modulates antigen sensitivity. A G at position 107 within the CDR3β stalk is encoded within a single mouse and human TCR, TRBV13-2 and TRBV12-5 respectively. Most TCR bear a S107. The S hydroxymethyl side chain intercalates into the core of the CDR3β loop, stabilizing it. G107 TRBV possess a gap in their CDR3β where this S hydroxymethyl moiety would fit. We predicted based on modeling and molecular dynamics simulations that a G107S substitution would increase CDR3β stability and thereby augment receptor sensitivity. Experimentally, a G107S replacement led to an ∼10-1000 fold enhanced antigen sensitivity in 3 of 4 TRBV13-2(+) TCR tested. Analysis of fine specificity indicated a preserved binding orientation. These results support the feasibility of developing high affinity antigen specific TCR for therapeutic purposes through the identification and manipulation of critical framework residues. They further indicate that amino acid variations within TRBV not directly involved in ligand contact can program TCR sensitivity, and suggest a role for CDR3 stability in this programming.

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