T-cell receptor (TCR) signaling is initiated by recruiting ZAP-70 to the cytosolic part of TCR. ZAP-70, a non-receptor tyrosine kinase, is composed of an N-terminal tandem SH2 (tSH2) domain connected to the C-terminal kinase domain. The ZAP-70 is recruited to the membrane through binding of tSH2 domain and the doubly-phosphorylated ITAM motifs of CD3 chains in the TCR complex. Our results show that the tSH2 domain undergoes a biphasic structural transition while binding to the doubly-phosphorylated ITAM- ζ1 peptide. The C-terminal SH2 domain binds first to the phosphotyrosine residue of ITAM peptide to form an encounter complex leading to subsequent binding of second phosphotyrosine residue to the N-SH2 domain. We decipher a network of non-covalent interactions that allosterically couple the two SH2 domains during binding to doubly-phosphorylated ITAMs. Mutation in the allosteric network residues, for example, W165C, uncouples the formation of encounter complex to the subsequent ITAM binding thus explaining the altered recruitment of ZAP-70 to the plasma membrane causing autoimmune arthritis in mice. The proposed mechanism of allosteric coupling is unique to ZAP-70, which is fundamentally different from Syk, a close homolog of ZAP-70 expressed in B-cells.

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