Mice bearing the recessive gene lpr develop an autoimmune syndrome associated with a massive lymphadenopathy, both of which are age and thymus dependent. The predominant accumulating cells in lymphoid tissue of lpr/lpr mice are Thy-1+ but express neither of the mature T cell markers, Lyt-2 or L3T4. We have purified this Lyt-2-/L3T4- subset and examined its phenotype. These cells are not actively cycling, do not express interleukin-2 (IL 2) receptors nor significant levels of antigen receptor, but do express the B cell marker B220. In vitro growth conditions were examined for the lpr Lyt-2-/L3T4- subset. By using a combination of phorbol ester and IL 2, these cells acquired transient expression of IL 2 receptors and grew in an IL 2-dependent manner. Furthermore, these proliferating cells underwent differentiation to a more mature T cell phenotype, with loss of cell surface B220 and acquisition, by a portion, of antigen receptor and Lyt-2. The possible parallels with normal T cell maturation are discussed.

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