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Abstract T cells recognising cognate pMHC antigens become activated to elicit a myriad of cellular responses, such as target cell killing and the secretion of different cytokines, that collectively contribute to adaptive immunity. These effector responses have been hypothesised to exhibit different antigen dose and affinity thresholds, suggesting that pathogen-specific information may be encoded within the nature of the antigen. Here, using systematic experiments in a reductionist system, where primary human CD8 + T cell blasts are stimulated by recombinant pMHC antigen alone, we show that different inflammatory cytokines have comparable antigen dose thresholds across a 25,000-fold variation in affinity. Although co-stimulation by CD28, CD2, and CD27 increased cytokine production in this system, the antigen threshold remained comparable across different cytokines. When using primary human memory CD8 + T cells responding to autologous antigen presenting cells equivalent thresholds were also observed for cytokine production and killing. These findings imply a simple phenotypic model of TCR signalling where multiple T cell responses share a common rate-limiting threshold and a conceptually simple model of antigen recognition, where the chance factor of antigen dose and affinity do not provide any additional response-specific information.

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