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During T lymphocyte (T cell) recognition of an antigen, a highly organized and specific pattern of membrane proteins forms in the junction between the T cell and the antigen-presenting cell (APC). This specialized cell-cell junction is called the immunological synapse. It is several micrometers large and forms over many minutes. A plethora of experiments are being performed to study the mechanisms that underlie synapse formation and the way in which information transfer occurs across the synapse. The wealth of experimental data that is beginning to emerge must be understood within a mechanistic framework if it is to prove useful in developing modalities to control the immune response. Quantitative models can complement experiments in the quest for such a mechanistic understanding by suggesting experimentally testable hypotheses. Here, a quantitative synapse assembly model is described. The model uses concepts developed in physical chemistry and cell biology and is able to predict the spatiotemporal evolution of cell shape and receptor protein patterns observed during synapse formation. Attention is directed to how the juxtaposition of model predictions and experimental data has led to intriguing hypotheses regarding the role of null and self peptides during synapse assembly, as well as correlations between T cell effector functions and the robustness of synapse assembly. We remark on some ways in which synergistic experiments and modeling studies can improve current models, and we take steps toward a better understanding of information transfer across the T cell-APC junction.
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