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Major histocompatibility complex class I molecules (MHC I) present peptides to cytotoxic T-cells at the surface of almost all nucleated cells. The function of MHC I molecules is to select high affinity peptides from a large intracellular pool and they are assisted in this process by co-factor molecules, notably tapasin. In contrast to mammals, MHC homozygous chickens express a single MHC I gene locus, termed BF2, which is hypothesised to have co-evolved with the highly polymorphic tapasin within stable haplotypes. The BF2 molecules of the B15 and B19 haplotypes have recently been shown to differ in their interactions with tapasin and in their peptide selection properties. This study investigated whether these observations might be explained by differences in the protein plasticity that is encoded into the MHC I structure by primary sequence polymorphisms. Furthermore, we aimed to demonstrate the utility of a complimentary modelling approach to the understanding of complex experimental data. Combining mechanistic molecular dynamics simulations and the primary sequence based technique of statistical coupling analysis, we show how two of the eight polymorphisms between BF2*15∶01 and BF2*19∶01 facilitate differences in plasticity. We show that BF2*15∶01 is intrinsically more plastic than BF2*19∶01, exploring more conformations in the absence of peptide. We identify a protein sector of contiguous residues connecting the membrane bound α3 domain and the heavy chain peptide binding site. This sector contains two of the eight polymorphic residues. One is residue 22 in the peptide binding domain and the other 220 is in the α3 domain, a putative tapasin binding site. These observations are in correspondence with the experimentally observed functional differences of these molecules and suggest a mechanism for how modulation of MHC I plasticity by tapasin catalyses peptide selection allosterically.

Original publication




Journal article


PloS one

Publication Date





Institute for Life Sciences, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom ; Cancer Sciences Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom.


Animals, Chickens, Membrane Transport Proteins, Histocompatibility Antigens Class I, Amino Acid Sequence, Protein Conformation, Polymorphism, Genetic, Principal Component Analysis, Models, Molecular, Molecular Dynamics Simulation