Selective activation of Lyt 2+ precursor T cells by ligation of the antigen receptor

Nature. 1985 Oct 17-23;317(6038):627-9. doi: 10.1038/317627a0.


Resting T lymphocytes may be activated either physiologically, by the specific recognition of antigen in association with molecules encoded by the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), or non-physiologically using mitogens such as concanavalin A (Con A). The former activation process is difficult to analyse because resting precursor T cells specific for a particular antigen-MHC combination can only be isolated in the presence of a large excess of bystander cells of irrelevant specificity; clonal populations of uniform specificity are not useful for studying the activation of naive T cells because there is no reason to believe that such cloned cells ever return to the state of resting precursors. Mitogens may activate a large fraction of resting T cells, but analysis is again complicated because the target molecule(s) of most mitogens is unknown and the relationship of this kind of activation to physiological induction by antigen plus MHC molecules remains unclear. By using a monoclonal antibody specific for the antigen receptors on approximately 25% of all T cells of both Lyt 2+ and Lyt 2- subsets, we have studied the induction of lymphokine responsiveness in resting normal T cells. This antibody, immobilized on Sepharose beads, is sufficient to activate Lyt 2+ T cells, but not Lyt 2- T cells, to clonal expansion in the presence of a mixture of lymphokines (10% rat spleen Con A supernatant). We report here that clonal growth of the T cells obeys single-hit kinetics in limiting-dilution microcultures, suggesting that a single cell type is limiting. We conclude that cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (Tc) precursors require only ligation of the antigen receptor before they become responsive to lymphokines, whereas helper T-lymphocyte (Th) precursors require additional signals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Female
  • Lymph Nodes / cytology
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Lymphokines / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Lymphokines
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell