Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

The coreceptor CD4 is expressed in distinct nanoclusters and does not colocalize with T-cell receptor and active protein tyrosine kinase p56lck.

PMID 25829544


CD4 molecules on the surface of T lymphocytes greatly augment the sensitivity and activation process of these cells, but how it functions is not fully understood. Here we studied the spatial organization of CD4, and its relationship to T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) and the active form of Src kinase p56lck (Lck) using single and dual-color photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM) and direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (dSTORM). In nonactivated T cells, CD4 molecules are clustered in small protein islands, as are TCR and Lck. By dual-color imaging, we find that CD4, TCR, and Lck are localized in their separate clusters with limited interactions in the interfaces between them. Upon T-cell activation, the TCR and CD4 begin clustering together, developing into microclusters, and undergo a larger scale redistribution to form supramolecluar activation clusters (SMACs). CD4 and Lck localize in the inner TCR region of the SMAC, but this redistribution of disparate cluster structures results in enhanced segregation from each other. In nonactivated cells these preclustered structures and the limited interactions between them may serve to limit spontaneous and random activation events. However, the small sizes of these island structures also ensure large interfacial surfaces for potential interactions and signal amplification when activation is initiated. In the later activation stages, the increasingly larger clusters and their segregation from each other reduce the interfacial surfaces and could have a dampening effect. These highly differentiated spatial distributions of TCR, CD4, and Lck and their changes during activation suggest that there is a more complex hierarchy than previously thought.