Immunosuppressor activity of considerable potency and complexity was generated during the course of chronic, progressive infection of C3H/Anf mice by Mycobacterium lepraemurium. From the 5th through 10th week after inoculation, spleen cells from infected mice mildly but reproducibly suppressed the direct plaqueforming cell response of normal spleen cell cultures to sheep erythrocytes. Suppression at this stage of infection was mediated by cells with macrophage-like characteristics. A marked increase in splenic suppressor activity at 10 to 11 weeks was associated with the appearance of a second suppressor cell subpopulation composed of T lymphocytes. The appearance of these cells was closely related in time to the onset of rapid splenic enlargement and a loss of cutaneous delayed type hypersensitivity to antigens of M. lepraemurium in mice at 10 to 11 weeks of infection. Suppressor cells were not present in peripheral lymph nodes until terminal infection at 22 to 25 weeks.
Suppressor spleen cells depressed the T-dependent antibody response most severely, but there was also a direct effect upon B cells as shown by moderate suppression of responses to TNP-LPS and DNP-Ficoll. Spleen cells from 14-week-infected mice generated a soluble suppressor factor(s) that induces depression of moderate severity, however, the immunosuppression by intact cells was far greater.