T-cell activation via antigen presentation is associated with the formation of a macromolecular membrane assembly termed the immunological synapse (IS). The genesis of the IS and the onset of juxtacrine signalling is characterized by the formation of cell membrane microclusters and the organization of such into segregated microdomains. A central zone rich in T-cell receptor (TCR)–major histocompatibility complex microclusters termed the central supramolecular activation cluster (cSMAC) forms the bullseye of this structure, while the cellular interface surrounding the cSMAC is characterized by regions enriched in adhesion and co-stimulatory molecules. In vitro, the study of dynamic TCR microcluster coalescence and IS genesis in T-cell populations is hampered by cell migration within the culture system and resolution constraints resulting from lateral cell–cell contact. Here, we detail a novel system describing the fabrication of micropit arrays designed to sequester single T-cell–antigen presenting cell (APC) conjugates and promote IS formation in the horizontal imaging plane for high-resolution studies of microcluster dynamics. We subsequently use this system to describe the formation of the cSMAC in T-cell populations and to investigate the morphology of the interfacial APC membrane.

  • Received January 18, 2011.
  • Accepted February 18, 2011.
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