Age-related alterations of antigen-specific T cell-mediated suppression have been examined in the 4-hydroxy-3-nitrophenyl acetyl (NP) system. Inducer suppressor T cells (Tsi) were activated in mice at the age of 3 mo (young) or 18 mo (old) by i.v. injection of NP-conjugated syngeneic spleen cells (SC). Spleen cells from the NP-SC-injected mice were subcultured in vitro with spleen cells from normal young or old mice to generate transducer suppressor T cells (Tst). Four days later subcultured cells were added to responder cell cultures 1 day before the PFC assays to trigger effector suppressor T cells (Tse). Responder cell cultures, containing NP-conjugated horse red blood cells (HRBC) and spleen cells from HRBC-primed young or old mice, were assayed on day 4 for anti-NP and anti-HRBC PFC. Suppression was found to be antigen specific and age restricted. NP-specific suppressor cells are easily induced in subculture if the Tsi and Tst cell populations are both derived from young or old mice. Conversely, if Tsi cells from young or old mice are subcultured with Tst cells from mice of a different age, suppression of the anti-NP PFC response is hardly observed. Age restriction was also found to operate in the interactions between subcultured and responder cell populations, indicating that age-matching is required for effective triggering of Tse cells by Tst cells. These results altogether suggest that aging may affect the recognition repertoire expressed in suppressor T cell subsets. Moreover, the finding that suppression is less efficient when exerted on responder spleen cells from old than from young mice provides an explanation for the increased frequency of autoimmune disorders in aging.

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