We analyzed the regulation of immunoglobulin (Ig) production in short-term cultures of human (rib) bone marrow cells. In contrast to blood or tonsil cell cultures, large quantities of IgG and IgA, but not IgM, were secreted by unstimulated marrow cells. The addition of pokeweed mitogen or phytohemagglutinin resulted in the suppression of this Ig secretion. Both mitogens induced the production of high levels of interleukin 2 (IL 2) in marrow cultures, and the addition of IL 2 alone mimicked the suppressive effect of mitogens. Incubation of marrow cells with Epstein Barr virus resulted in enhanced Ig secretion, primarily of the IgM isotype. The addition of mitogen or IL 2 suppressed Ig production in these cultures as well. The mitogen-induced suppression of Ig secretion in stimulated or unstimulated marrow cultures was inhibited by the monoclonal anti-TAC (IL 2 receptor) antibody. Cell separation experiments indicated that the induction of suppressor activity in marrow cultures involved two distinct populations of marrow-resident T lineage cells. The first population responds to activation by mitogens with the production of IL 2. This population has a surface phenotype appropriate for helper T cells. The second T cell population expresses T8 and TAC determinants. These cells acquire suppressor cell activity after exposure to IL 2. The expression of suppressor function does not require additional (e.g., mitogenic) activation signals. The IL 2-dependent marrow suppressor T cells represent a newly recognized T lymphocyte subset. The regulatory pathway delineated may be important for the regulation of antibody formation in bone marrow, the major site of Ig production in man.

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