Maternally transmitted factor (Mtf) is a mitochondrial gene that controls the antigenic polymorphism of the MHC class I maternally transmitted antigen (Mta). Synthetic peptides from the NH2 terminus of the mitochondrially encoded NADH dehydrogenase subunit 1 (ND1) mimic Mtf peptide activity in an allele-specific manner. We show that the minimal ND1-alpha peptide length recognized by Mtaa-specific polyclonal CTLs was between 8 and 12 amino acids, while some Mtaa-specific CTL clones recognized a six amino acid peptide. The N-formyl group at the NH2 terminus of ND1 was essential for Mta activity. Competition experiments using N-substituted ND1-alpha peptides showed that an N-formyl peptide receptor on the target cell, which differs from the chemotactic peptide receptor, was required for Mta expression. The specificity of this receptor can account for the distinct immune restriction of Mta in which Mtf peptides are uniquely restricted by Hmt. It is possible that the Hmt gene product is the N-formyl peptide receptor itself and that it represents a class I antigen presentation molecule specialized for binding, transport, and immune presentation of N-formyl-peptide antigens of mitochondrial and prokaryotic origin.

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