Regulation of T-cell apoptosis: a mixed lymphocyte reaction model

Immunology. 2000 Jul;100(3):289-99. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2567.2000.00048.x.


Despite the capacity for antigen-specific activation and rapid clonal expansion, homeostatic mechanisms ensure that the mature immune system contains a relatively stable number of T cells. In recent years, it has become apparent that this stability is a consequence of apoptotic death of most of the specific T cells generated during an immune response. Clearly this process must be tightly regulated in order to retain sufficient T-cell progeny to mediate an effective response, whilst allowing the rapid deletion of these cells at the end of the response to prevent lymphadenopathy and cross-reactive autoimmunity. In this study, the factors that regulate the sensitivity of T cells to apoptosis were investigated in vitro after the induction of primary T-cell activation within a mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR). It was found that activated T cells rapidly acquire the expression of both Fas and Fas ligand (FasL) on their surface and contain high levels of the precursor form of the pro-apoptotic enzyme, caspase 8 (FLICE). However, these T cells were resistant for up to 5 days to apoptosis following the stimulation of Fas; a maximal apoptotic response was observed after 7 days. This time point coincided with a marked reduction in expression of the FLICE inhibitory protein (FLIP) and maximal activity of caspase 8. At time points beyond day 7, the number of viable cells in the MLR decreased further despite a reduction in the expression of FasL. However, the expression of interleukin-2 (IL-2) at these late time points was low, resulting in a decrease in expression of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2. This can produce apoptosis by allowing leakage of cytochrome-c from mitochondria resulting in direct activation of the caspase cascade. In this study, it is shown that T cells are resistant to apoptosis for the first 5 days after activation as a consequence of insensitivity of the Fas pathway and the presence of intracellular Bcl-2. After between 5 and 7 days, the cells become sensitive to Fas-mediated apoptosis while retaining Bcl-2 expression. At later time points, Fas ligation is reduced but the cells respond to a decreased availability of IL-2 by reducing Bcl-2 expression; this encourages further apoptosis by allowing the direct activation of caspase enzymes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Apoptosis / immunology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Fas Ligand Protein
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Culture Test, Mixed
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • fas Receptor / immunology


  • FASLG protein, human
  • Fas Ligand Protein
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • fas Receptor
  • Caspases