The aggregation of IgE anchored to high-affinity Fє receptors on rat basophilic leukemia (RBL) cells by multivalent antigens initiates transmembrane signaling and ultimately cellular degranulation. Previous studies have shown that the rate of dissociation of bivalent and multivalent DNP ligands from RBL cells sensitized with anti-DNP IgE decreases with increasing ligand incubation times. One mechanism proposed for this effect is that when IgE molecules are aggregated, a conformational change occurs that results in an increase in the intrinsic affinity of IgE for antigen. This possibility was tested by measuring the equilibrium constant for the binding of monovalent DNP-lysine to anti-DNP IgE under two conditions, where the cell-bound IgE is dispersed and where it has been aggregated into visible patches on the cell surface using anti-IgE and a secondary antibody. No difference in the equilibrium constant in these two cases was observed. We also measured the rate of dissociation of a monovalent ligand from cell surface IgE under these two conditions. Whereas the affinity for monovalent ligand is not altered by IgE aggregation, we observe that the rate of ligand dissociation from IgE in clusters is slower than the rate of ligand dissociation from unaggregated IgE. These results are discussed in terms of recent theoretical developments concerning effects of receptor density on ligand binding to cell surfaces.
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