Light-based tuning of ligand half-life supports kinetic proofreading model of T cell activation.
Abstract: T cells are thought to discriminate stimulatory versus non-stimulatory ligands by converting small changes in ligand binding half-life to large changes in cell activation. Such a kinetic proofreading model has been difficult to test directly, as existing methods of altering ligand binding half-life also change other potentially important biophysical parameters, most notably the stability of the receptor-ligand interaction under load. Here we develop an optogenetic approach to specifically tune the binding half-life of a light-responsive ligand to a chimeric antigen receptor without changing other binding parameters. By simultaneously manipulating binding half-life while controlling for receptor occupancy, we find that signaling is strongly gated by ligand binding half-life. Our results provide direct evidence of kinetic proofreading in ligand discrimination by T cells.