To study binding of long (≥10mer) peptides to class I MHC, Li et al. generated N-terminally extended 10-20mer peptides. Bound to HLA-B*0801, the peptides showed similar stability and conformation to the 8-amino acid core sequence, while the longer N-termini protruded from the binding pocket. Endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidase 1 (ERAP1) trimmed unbound peptides to small fragments, but HLA-bound peptides to a minimum of 14 amino acids. The authors propose a model in which C-terminal residues initially guide peptide-MHC binding, while the N-terminal residues extend out of the pocket allowing editing by ERAP1, ERAP2, or the heterodimer.
Contributed by Alex Najibi
Endoplasmic reticulum aminopeptidases 1 (ERAP1) and ERAP2 critically shape the major histocompatibility complex I (MHC I) immunopeptidome. The ERAPs remove N-terminal residues from antigenic precursor peptides and generate optimal-length peptides,i.e., 8-10mers, to fit into the MHC class I groove. It is therefore intriguing that MHC class I molecules can present N-terminally extended peptides on the cell surface that can elicit CD8+ T-cell responses. This observation likely reflects gaps in our understanding of how antigens are processed by the ERAP enzymes. To better understand ERAPs' function in antigen processing, here we generated a nested set of N-terminally extended 10-20mer peptides (RA)nAAKKKYCL covalently bound to the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-B*0801. We used X-ray crystallography, thermostability assessments, and an ERAP1-trimming assay to characterize these complexes. The x-ray structures determined at 1.40-1.65 A resolutions revealed that the residue extensions (RA)nunexpectedly protrude out of the A pocket of HLA-B*0801, whereas the AAKKKYCL core of all peptides adopts similar, bound conformations. HLA-B*0801 residue 62 was critical to open the A pocket. We also show that HLA-B*0801 and antigenic precursor peptides form stable complexes. Finally, ERAP1-mediated trimming of the MHC I-bound peptides required a minimal length of 14 amino acids. We propose a mechanistic model explaining how ERAP1-mediated trimming of MHC I-bound peptides in cells can generate peptides of canonical as well as noncanonical lengths that still serve as stable MHC I ligands. Our results provide a framework to better understand how the ERAP enzymes influence the MHC I immunopeptidome.