To present virus and tumor Ags, HLA class I molecules undergo a complex multistep assembly involving discrete but transient folding intermediates. The most extensive folding abnormalities occur in cells lacking the class I L chain subunit, called β2-microglobulin (β2m). Herein, this issue was investigated taking advantage of eight conformational murine mAbs (including the prototypic W6/32 mAb) to mapped H chain epitopes of class I molecules, four human mAbs to class I alloantigens, as well as radioimmunoprecipitation, in vitro assembly, pulse-chase, flow cytometry, and peptide-pulse/ELISPOT experiments. We show that endogenous (HLA-A1, -A66, and -B58) as well as transfected (HLA-A2) heavy chains in β2m- defective Burkitt lymphoma Daudi cells are capable of being expressed on the cell surface, although at low levels, and exclusively as immature glycoforms. In addition, HLA-A2 is: 1) partially folded at crucial interfaces with β2m, peptide Ag, and CD8; 2) receptive to exogenous peptide; and 3) capable of presenting exogenous peptide epitopes (from virus and tumor Ags) to cytotoxic T lymphocytes (bulk populations as well as clones) educated in a β2m-positive environment. These experiments demonstrate a precursor-product relationship between novel HLA class I folding intermediates, and define a stepwise mechanism whereby distinct interfaces of the class I H chain undergo successive, ligand-induced folding adjustments in vitro as well as in vivo. Due to this unprecedented class I plasticity, Daudi is the first human cell line in which folding and function of class I HLA molecules are observed in the absence of β2m. These findings bear potential implications for tumor immunotherapy.
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