Skip to main content
Biology LibreTexts

15.4N: The Immunological Synapse

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Immunological responses, both antibody-mediated and cell-mediated involve close contact between a T cell and an antigen-presenting cell (APC).


    • Helper T cells (Th1) with "professional" antigen-presenting cells like dendritic cells and some macrophages
    • Helper T cells (Th2) with B cells
    • Cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) with their targets
    • NK cells with their targets
    Figure Pairs of molecules in immunosynapse

    TCR/MHC-peptide pair

    • On the T cell, the T-cell receptor for antigen (TCR) bound to
    • a major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecule on the antigen-presenting cell (APC).
      • For CD4+ T cells, the MHC molecules are class II, and the binding is aided by CD4.
      • For CD8+ T cells (e.g., CTLs), the MHC molecules are class I, and the binding is aided by CD8.
      • In both cases, the MHC molecule has an antigenic peptide nestled in an exterior groove (MHC-peptide).
    • The TCR molecules are tethered by actin filaments in the cytoplasm.
    • Several hundred TCR/MHC-peptide pairs are needed to stimulate a naive T cell to begin mitosis, but only 50 or so are needed to activate a "memory" T cell to do its work; that is, to become an effector T cell.

    Costimulatory pairs

    The costimulatory molecule CD28 on the T cell bound to its ligand, B7, on the APC.

    General adhesion molecules

    • Leukocyte Function-associated Antigen-1 (LFA-1), an integrin on the T cell, bound to
    • InterCellular Adehesion Molecule-1 (ICAM-1) on the APC.

    Cytokine receptors

    Cytokine receptors also cluster in the synapse (not shown in the diagram) where they are exposed to cytokines secreted into the synapse.

    Formation of an immunological synapse causes the T cell to

    • become activated with various signal pathways turning on new gene transcription
    • release, by exocytosis, the contents of its vesicles:
      • Type 1 helper T cells (Th1): lymphokines like IFN-γ and TNF-β
      • Type 2 helper T cells (Th2): lymphokines like IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13 that stimulate B cells
      • Cytotoxic T Lymphocytes (CTLs): cytotoxic molecules like perforin and granzymes that kill the target

    This page titled 15.4N: The Immunological Synapse is shared under a CC BY 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by John W. Kimball via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

    • Was this article helpful?