The paradox of alloreactivity and self MHC restriction: Quantitative analysis and statistics
Although 1-24% of T cells are alloreactive, i.e., respond to MHC molecules encoded by a foreign haplotype, it is generally believed that T cells cannot recognize foreign peptides binding foreign MHC molecules. We show using a quantitative model that, if T cell selection and activation are affinity-driven, then an alloreactivity of 1-24% is incompatible with the textbook notion that self MHC restriction is absolute. If an average of 1% of clones are alloreactive, then according to our model, at most 20-fold more clones should, on average, be activated by antigens presented on self MHC than by antigens presented on foreign MHC. This ratio is at best 5 if alloreactivity is 5%. These results describe average properties of the murine immune system, but not the outcome of individual experiments. Using supercomputer technology, we simulated 100,000 MHC restriction experiments. Although the average restriction ratio was 7.1, restriction was absolute in 10% of the simulated experiments, greater than 100, although not absolute, in 29%, and below 6 in 24%. This extreme variability agrees with experimental estimates. Our analysis suggests that alloreactivity and average self MHC restriction both cannot be high, but that a low average restriction level is compatible with high levels in a significant number of experiments.