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For this work, Snell was awarded the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Baruj Benacerraf and Jean Dausset.
Of the three MHC classes identified, attention commonly focuses on classes I and II.
B cells, which act specifically, secrete antibody molecules, but do not bind MHC.
T cells, which act specifically, as well as NK cells, which act innately, interact with MHC.
When MHC class I expression is low, as is typically the case with abnormal cell function during viral infection or tumourigenesis, NK cells lose the inhibitory KIR signal and trigger programmed cell death of the abnormal cell.
NK cells thus help prevent progress of cancerous cells by contributing to tumor surveillance.
As a lineage of leukocytes, lymphocytes reside in peripheral lymphoid tissues, including lymphoid follicles and lymph nodes, and include B cells, T cells, and natural killer cells (NK cells).
The MHC gene family is divided into three subgroups: class I, class II, and class III.
Class I MHC molecules have β2 subunits so can only be recognised by CD8 co-receptors.
MHC interacts with TCR and its co-receptors to optimize binding conditions for the TCR-antigen interaction, in terms of antigen binding affinity and specificity, and signal transduction effectiveness.
Essentially, the MHC-peptide complex is a complex of autoantigen/alloantigen.