Clonal deletion of developing lymphocytes with potential reactivity for self is thought to play a crucial role in the establishment of self tolerance. One prediction of the clonal deletion hypothesis is that cells bearing receptors with high affinity for self are more likely than cells with low affinity receptors to be deleted from the repertoire. Experimental models of B cell tolerance have provided evidence for the preferential survival of low affinity cells with specificity for tolerogen in tolerant animals, but no comparable evidence exists for T cells. To examine this issue in T cells, cytotoxic T cell lines specific for the Kb mutant class I H-2 molecule, bm1, were generated from C57BL/6 mice rendered neonatally tolerant of bm1 and compared with anti-bm1 lines generated from normal mice. Compared with normal lines, those from tolerant mice differed in five ways: 1) they grew more slowly; 2) they were less efficient at lysing bm1 targets; 3) they showed different patterns of lysis against a panel of third party targets; 4) their cytotoxic activity against bm1 could be increased in the presence of leukoagglutinin, whereas the activity of normal lines was not increased by leukoagglutinin; and 5) their cytotoxic activity was more susceptible to inhibition by anti-Lyt-2 antibody. Taken together, these results demonstrate that the repertoire of the remaining tolerogen-specific cytotoxic T cells in neonatally tolerant mice is different from the normal C57BL/6 anti-bm1 repertoire, and the results are consistent with the idea that the remaining tolerogen-specific cells are low avidity cells that have preferentially escaped the clonal deletion process.

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