How membrane receptors initiate signal transduction upon ligand binding is a matter of intense scrutiny. The T cell receptor complex (TCR-CD3) is composed of TCR alpha/beta ligand binding subunits bound to the CD3 subunits responsible for signal transduction. Although it has long been speculated that TCR-CD3 may undergo a conformational change, confirmation is still lacking. We present strong evidence that ligand engagement of TCR-CD3 induces a conformational change that exposes a proline-rich sequence in CD3 epsilon and results in recruitment of the adaptor protein Nck. This occurs earlier than and independently of tyrosine kinase activation. Finally, by interfering with Nck-CD3 epsilon association in vivo, we demonstrate that TCR-CD3 recruitment of Nck is critical for maturation of the immune synapse and for T cell activation.
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