MRL/Mp-lpr/lpr (MRL/lpr) mice spontaneously develop an autoimmune disease characterized by anti-DNA antibodies, immune-complex glomerulonephritis, and massive proliferation of a distinct population of T cells. The proliferating T cells have the phenotype Thy-1.2+, T200+, Lyt-1+,2-,3-, but Thy-1.2 and Lyt-1 are expressed in abnormally low density. These cells appear to function as helper cells, and neonatal thymectomy prevents both lymphoproliferation and autoimmunity, which suggests that autoimmunity in MRL/lpr mice is secondary to T cell proliferation. We therefore attempted to reduce lymphoproliferation by treating MRL/lpr mice with a single injection of rat monoclonal antibody (MAb) to Thy-1.2 (30-H12, IgG2b). Mice were treated at 8 wk, before the onset of overt disease. We found that MRL/lpr mice were resistant to depletion of circulating T cells (CTC) by anti-Thy-1.2; 0.6 mg of antibody totally depleted CTC from normal mice, but had little or no effect on CTC in MRL/lpr mice. However, treatment with 6 mg of MAb against Thy-1.2 reduced CTC in MRL/lpr mice by over 70%. Moreover, this single treatment markedly reduced the proliferation of CTC over the ensuing 3 mo, despite clearance of the anti-Thy-1.2 from the circulation within 3 wk. Treated mice maintained better renal function than untreated controls, as assessed by levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN), although anti-DNA antibodies were not significantly reduced. The effect of anti-Thy-1.2 was specific; treatment with rat MAb to the common leukocyte antigen T200 produced only a transient effect on circulating lymphocytes and did not reduce renal disease. The prolonged effects of a single injection of anti-Thy-1.2 suggest that the MAb produces a sustained alteration in immune regulation. The improvement in renal disease is in accord with evidence that autoimmune disease in MRL/lpr mice is T cell dependent. Monoclonal anti-lymphocyte antibodies may be useful in the treatment of autoimmunity.

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