Naturally occurring thymocytotoxic autoantibodies (NTA) have been described in both humans and mice with SLE. To define further the role of anti-thymic autoantibodies in murine lupus, we studied the cellular and molecular specificity of a spontaneous monoclonal NTA, designated TC-17, derived from a 4-mo-old New Zealand Black mouse. TC-17, an IgM autoantibody, has been shown previously to be unreactive with Lyt-1, Lyt-2, and L3T4 (T helper) antigens. We have shown further that it is also unreactive with Thy-1. TC-17 recognizes a new thymic antigen that appears to mark a distinct subpopulation of cortisol-sensitive cortical thymocytes. The antigen consists of a single glycoprotein chain with an apparent m.w. of 88,000. TC-17 shows reduced binding to thymocytes treated with tunicamycin, indicating either that glycosylation of TC-17 antigen is necessary for TC-17 to bind to it or that glycosylation is required for expression of the antigen on the cell surface. TC-17 uniquely reacts with two of 17 murine lymphoid tumor cell lines of intermediate cellular maturity. The thymocytotoxic activity of TC-17 is absorbed by single cell suspensions of murine stomach, small intestine, large intestine, kidney, and thymus. Moreover, the specific binding of TC-17 to gut tissue of normal and germfree mice can be demonstrated by indirect immunofluorescence, suggesting antigenic cross-reactions between thymic and gut tissue. TC-17 reacts with rat thymocytes as well as it does with murine cells, indicating moderate evolutionary conservation of the TC-17 antigen. The expression of this glycoprotein by a discrete thymocyte subset may prove to be a valuable probe for the study of murine T cell differentiation.

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