Optogenetic control shows that kinetic proofreading regulates the activity of the T cell receptor.
Abstract: The immune system distinguishes between self and foreign antigens. The kinetic proofreading (KPR) model proposes that T cells discriminate self from foreign ligands by the different ligand binding half-lives to the T cell receptor (TCR). It is challenging to test KPR as the available experimental systems fall short of only altering the binding half-lives and keeping other parameters of the interaction unchanged. We engineered an optogenetic system using the plant photoreceptor phytochrome B (PhyB) as a ligand to selectively control the dynamics of ligand binding to the TCR by light. This opto-ligand-TCR system was combined with the unique property of PhyB to continuously cycle between the binding and non-binding states under red light, with the light intensity determining the cycling rate and thus the binding duration. Mathematical modeling of our experimental datasets showed that indeed the ligand-TCR interaction half-life is the decisive factor for activating downstream TCR signaling, substantiating KPR.