We present a joint theoretical and experimental study on the effects of competition for ligand between receptors in solution and receptors on cell surfaces. We focus on the following experiment. After ligand and cell surface receptors equilibrate, solution receptors are introduced, and the dissociation of surface bound ligand is monitored. We derive theoretical expressions for the dissociation rate and compare with experiment. In a standard dissociation experiment (no solution receptors present) dissociation may be slowed by rebinding, i.e., at high receptor densities a ligand that dissociates from one receptor may rebind to other receptors before separating from the cell. Our theory predicts that rebinding will be prevented when S much greater than N2Kon/(16 pi 2D a4), where S is the free receptor site concentration in solution, N the number of free surface receptor sites per cell, Kon the forward rate constant for ligand-receptor binding in solution, D the diffusion coefficient of the ligand, and a the cell radius. The predicted concentration of solution receptors needed to prevent rebinding is proportional to the square of the cell surface receptor density. The experimental system used in these studies consists of a monovalent ligand, 2,4-dinitrophenyl (DNP)-aminocaproyl-L-tyrosine (DCT), that reversibly binds to a monoclonal anti-DNP immunoglobulin E (IgE). This IgE is both a solution receptor and, when anchored to its high affinity Fc epsilon receptor on rat basophilic leukemia (RBL) cells, a surface receptor. For RBL cells with 6 x 10(5) binding sites per cell, our theory predicts that to prevent DCT rebinding to cell surface IgE during dissociation requires S much greater than 2,400 nM. We show that for S = 200–1,700 nM, the dissociation rate of DCT from surface IgE is substantially slower than from solution IgE where no rebinding occurs. Other predictions are also tested and shown to be consistent with experiment.
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