We used flow cytometry to examine effects of lectins on interactions between human lymphocytes and the anti-T cell monoclonal reagents OKT4 (T helper-specific) and OKT8 (T suppressor-specific). Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) inhibited OKT8 binding to lymphocytes by a mean 77% and Ricinus communis agglutinin (RCA-I) inhibited OKT4 binding by 66%. Inhibition was abolished in each case by appropriate carbohydrate hapten inhibitors of lectin binding, indicating it was mediated by the lectin saccharide combining sites. Neither WGA nor RCA-I inhibited binding of OKT3, a pan-T cell monoclonal reagent. In addition, a group of other lectins with a variety of nominal carbohydrate specificities did not inhibit OKT4 or OKT8 binding. Preincubation experiments and gel filtration indicated that inhibition in each case was due to competition between lectin and monoclonal for binding to cell surfaces, not to direct lectin-monoclonal antibody interactions. Treatment of lymphoid cells with OKT8 and complement reduced OKT8- and WGA-binding cells concurrently, whereas treatment with OKT4 and complement did not reduce percentages of either type of cell. Similarly, specific depletion of OKT8-binding cells abolished the mitogenic response to WGA but not that to PHA. Cell populations enriched for WGA-binding cells prepared by flow cytometry and cell sorting demonstrated parallel enrichment for OKT8-binding and depletion of OKT4-binding cells. Therefore, these data demonstrate specific inhibition of OKT4 and OKT8 binding by the lectins, RCA-I and WGA, respectively. Inhibition was mediated by lectin binding to lymphoid cell surfaces, perhaps directly to the T4 or T8 antigens. The observations indicate that lectins may prove useful for investigating structural features of some immunologic cell surface markers. Furthermore, they provide the possibility that certain in vitro effects of lectins on immune function may result from their interactions with molecules such as the T4 and T8 antigens.

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