Soluble MHC-peptide complexes: tools for the monitoring of T cell responses in clinical trials and basic research

Philippe Guillaume, Danijel Dojcinovic and Immanuel F. Luescher

Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Lausanne Branch, University of Lausanne, 1066 Epalinges, Switzerland

Keywords: human, mouse, MHC-peptide complex, tetramer, immunologic monitoring


Soluble MHC-peptide complexes, commonly known as tetramers, allow the detection and isolation of antigen-specific T cells. Although other types of soluble MHC-peptide complexes have been introduced, the most commonly used MHC class I staining reagents are those originally described by Altman and Davis. As these reagents have become an essential tool for T cell analysis, it is important to have a large repertoire of such reagents to cover a broad range of applications in cancer research and clinical trials. Our tetramer collection currently comprises 228 human and 60 mouse tetramers and new reagents are continuously being added. For the MHC II tetramers, the list currently contains 21 human (HLA-DR, DQ and DP) and 5 mouse (I-Ab) tetramers. Quantitative enumeration of antigen-specific T cells by tetramer staining, especially at low frequencies, critically depends on the quality of the tetramers and on the staining procedures. For conclusive longitudinal monitoring, standardized reagents and analysis protocols need to be used. This is especially true for the monitoring of antigen-specific CD4+ T cells, as there are large variations in the quality of MHC II tetramers and staining conditions. This commentary provides an overview of our tetramer collection and indications on how tetramers should be used to obtain optimal results.