Our previous studies had demonstrated that depletion of endogenous natural killer (NK) cells resulted in an augmented primary antibody response in vivo and in vitro. We have now examined the effect of NK cell depletion on the in vitro secondary response to antigen. Treatment of primed murine spleen cells with anti-NK-1.1 allo-antibody and complement before culture resulted in a significant increase in the magnitude of the antigen-specific plaque-forming cell (PFC) response. This treatment did not affect the proportions of Lyt-2+, L3T4+, or sIg+ cells in the population, however, indicating that the augmentation in PFC was not due to changes in the ratio of T to B cells. Removal of endogenous NK cells had a greater effect on the IgG (indirect) PFC response (100 to 200% increase) than on the IgM (direct) PFC response (25 to 50% increase). In contrast, removal of Lyt-2+ cells before culture affected the IgM and IgG responses similarly. Moreover, the kinetics of augmentation differed between cultures depleted of Lyt-2+ cells and those depleted of NK-1.1+ cells. NK cells appeared to act earlier in the response than did T suppressor cells. The NK-1.1+ cells involved in antibody regulation were not involved in the generation of the in vitro derived T suppressor cells. The conclusion that the regulation of the antibody response by NK-1.1+ cells is distinct from that involving T suppressor cells was confirmed in experiments in which removal of both regulatory cell populations resulted in an increase in PFC that was greater than in cultures depleted of either NK or T suppressor cells.

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