Empty MHC class I molecules come out in the cold.
Ljunggren HG., Stam NJ., Ohlén C., Neefjes JJ., Höglund P., Heemels MT., Bastin J., Schumacher TN., Townsend A., Kärre K.
Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I molecules present antigen by transporting peptides from intracellularly degraded proteins to the cell surface for scrutiny by cytotoxic T cells. Recent work suggests that peptide binding may be required for efficient assembly and intracellular transport of MHC class I molecules, but it is not clear whether class I molecules can ever assemble in the absence of peptide. We report here that culture of the murine lymphoma mutant cell line RMA-S at reduced temperature (19-33 degrees C) promotes assembly, and results in a high level of cell surface expression of H-2/beta 2-microglobulin complexes that do not present endogenous antigens, and are labile at 37 degrees C. They can be stabilized at 37 degrees C by exposure to specific peptides known to interact with H-2Kb or Db. Our findings suggest that, in the absence of peptides, class I molecules can assemble but are unstable at body temperature. The induction of such molecules at reduced temperature opens new ways to analyse the nature of MHC class I peptide interactions at the cell surface.