The helper T cell recognition of soluble globular protein antigens requires that the proteins be processed by an APC, releasing a peptide that is transported to and held on the APC surface where it is recognized by the specific T cell in conjunction with Ia. When cellular processing functions are blocked, APC lose their ability to present native antigens while retaining the capacity to activate T cells when provided with a cognate peptide fragment that contains the T cell antigenic determinant. In this report, we show that a peptide fragment of the soluble globular protein antigen tobacco hornworm moth cytochrome c, residues 92-103 containing an additional NH2-terminal cysteine residue (THMcCys92-103), is effectively presented by B cells to an I-Ek-restricted, THMc-specific T cell hybrid when covalently coupled to antibodies specific for B cell surface Ig, Ia (Ak), or class I (Kk). Maximal activation of the T cells to the THMcCys92-103-antibody conjugates is achieved with 1/100-1/1,000th of the peptide required using unconjugated THMcCys92-103 or THMcCys92-103 coupled to nonspecific antibody. The T cell response to the peptide antibody conjugates is MHC restricted, but unlike native cytochrome c-antibody conjugates, THMcCys92-103-antibody conjugates do not require processing and can be presented by paraformaldehyde-fixed B cells. The THMcCys92-103-antibody conjugate are nearly as effective when incubated with B cells, and the unbound conjugates washed away before addition of T cells as when continuously present in culture with T cells and B cells, indicating that the active peptide antibody conjugate is associated at the B cell surface. The presentation of THMcCys92-103 coupled to monovalent Fab fragments of rabbit anti-Ig antibodies is less effective than that of the peptide coupled to bivalent antibody when either live or fixed B cells are APC, indicating that the avidity for the APC surface afforded by bivalent binding may be important in the conjugate's antigenicity. The results presented here indicate that a T cell-antigenic peptide, covalently coupled to a larger antibody molecule, can be readily recognized by an Ia-restricted helper T cell in the absence of processing. Moreover, the ability of the peptide to bind to B cell surfaces greatly augments the peptide's antigenicity, even when the binding is to structures distinct from the Ia molecule required for T cell activation.

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