Phorbol esters have been documented to stimulate the proliferation of human blood mononuclear cell cultures. In addition, these agents are also known to stimulate the production and release of reactive oxygen species by monocytes. We demonstrated previously that H2O2, one of these oxygen metabolites, impairs the proliferative capacity of human blood lymphocytes. Therefore, in these experiments, we determined whether or not the H2O2 released by monocytes after activation by PMA modifies the proliferation of lymphocytes to this agent. Human blood mononuclear cells (80% lymphocytes and 20% monocytes) were incubated with PMA, and lymphoblastic transformation (LBT) was quantitated at 3 and 5 days by pulsing the cultures with thymidine. Initial experiments established that the concentration of PMA required for optimal LBT was 50 ng/ml. We then demonstrated that this concentration of PMA also induces a burst in hexose monophosphate shunt activity and H2O2 production of mononuclear cells as indicated by the enhanced oxidation of 14C-glucose and 14C-formate, respectively. The amount of H2O2 released into the medium was substantial. Our measurements indicate that the concentration of H2O2 could reach values as high as 0.008 mM during the first 2 hr of the cultures. The addition of catalase to PMA-treated cultures in concentrations sufficient to scavenge the H2O2 released by the monocytes was associated with an enhanced thymidine uptake (mean 79%). These results indicate that the hydrogen peroxide released by the monocytes modifies the response of lymphocytes to the PMA. Paradoxically, mononuclear cell cultures depleted of monocytes also had a lower proliferation to PMA than mononuclear cell cultures. This observation indicates that monocytes also produce factors required for lymphocyte proliferation to PMA such as an interleukin. In contrast, to PMA cultures, catalase did not alter the proliferation of mononuclear cell cultures stimulated by PHA. We previously documented that PHA does not stimulate an immediate burst in the oxidative metabolism of mononuclear cultures. Therefore, the effect of catalase in these two culture systems appears to correlate with the capacity of the mitogen to stimulate the oxidative metabolism of mononuclear cells. These observations suggest that the release of reactive oxygen species by monocytes may modify the response of lymphocytes to antigens both in vitro and in vivo.

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