Immune response (Ir) genes, originally proposed by Baruj Benacerraf to explain differential antigen-specific responses in animal models, have become synonymous with the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). We discovered a non-MHC-linked Ir gene in a T cell receptor (TCR) locus that was required for CD8+ T cell responses to the Plasmodium berghei GAP5040-48 epitope in mice expressing the MHC class I allele H-2Db. GAP5040-48-specific CD8+ T cell responses emerged from a very large pool of naive Vβ8.1+ precursors, which dictated susceptibility to cerebral malaria and conferred protection against recombinant Listeria monocytogenes infection. Structural analysis of a prototypical Vβ8.1+ TCR-H-2Db-GAP5040-48 ternary complex revealed that germline-encoded complementarity-determining region 1β residues present exclusively in the Vβ8.1 segment mediated essential interactions with the GAP5040-48 peptide. Collectively, these findings demonstrated that Vβ8.1 functioned as an Ir gene that was indispensable for immune reactivity against the malaria GAP5040-48 epitope. CD8+ T cells that recognize MHC I-peptide complexes contribute to protection or pathogenesis after infection. Van Braeckel-Budimir et al. demonstrate that a germline-encoded component of the T cell receptor functions as an Immune response (Ir) gene, controlling the CD8+ T cell response against a malaria epitope and the outcome of infection.
- experimental cerebral malaria
- immune response genes
- naive CD8 T cells
- TCR bias