T-cells recognize the MHC molecules and body's own peptides. When it doesn't, it alarms the immune system. But do T-cells express MHC molecules ? If so, how are they using it? If not, what happens when a virus infects T-cells? (Yes, I am confused about HIV infection mechanism too. They escape from immune response by altering their genes and disrupting the MHC-peptide bonding. I can see that this can work in macrophages. But what is the situation in T-cells ?)

  • $\begingroup$ They express MHC1. $\endgroup$
    – inf3rno
    Dec 13, 2014 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ They do not express MHC II molecules. $\endgroup$
    – abc
    Oct 28, 2016 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ It is incorrect to say that T-cells do not express MHC class II molecules. Please see: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15120183 $\endgroup$
    – Joel Lee
    Feb 12, 2017 at 0:56

1 Answer 1


There are two types of MHC molecules:

All nucleated cells express MHC class 1 proteins. A sample of all proteins produced within the cell are 'sliced' into their constituents which are then presented by MHC-I receptors. This means that if a virus infects a cell, the foreign proteins the cell is induced to make are expressed on the cell membrane by MHC-I. This is important as antibodies can not cross cell membranes, therefore this is the method by which a cell signals that it is infected by a virus.

MHC II are the special molecules that are only expressed in antigen-presenting cells, which I think is what you are referring to. As neither CD4 or CD8 T-cells present antigens, they do not express MHC-II themselves. Instead CD4 have receptors for MHCII (while CD8 have receptors for MHCI), allowing them to interact with antigens presented by other immune cells.

If a virus infects T-cells, the viral proteins are sampled by the MHC-I pathway and presented via MHC-I on the surface of the infected T-Cell. The immune response then progresses as for any other virally infected cell, destruction by CD8 T-Killers that destroy the cell by non-phagocytic means.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you positive CD4 cells don't present antigens? I could have sworn they had the capability to. $\endgroup$
    – MCM
    Dec 31, 2012 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MCM that was off the top of my head, I'll have a read of my notes tomorrow. Happy New Year! $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Dec 31, 2012 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ Are antigen-presenting cells a specific type of cells? I've always been confused about this because the label seems so general. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Jan 1, 2013 at 15:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @shigeta I would say they're a class of cell, defined by their expression of MHC-II. $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Jan 1, 2013 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ I would expect that they do something else besides only presenting antigen - is that their only function? $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Jan 1, 2013 at 23:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .