CD69 is a phosphorylated disulfide-linked homodimer that appears on the surface of human T, B cells and thymocytes in the early steps of activation; its molecular mass is 28 to 34 kDa under reducing conditions. This molecule is able to mediate positive signals to the lymphocytes as the anti-CD69 mAb (MLR3, AIM, Leu 23) in synergism with phorbol esters induce IL-2 production and proliferation of lymphocytes. Here we show that this molecule is associated to a GTP binding protein that is a substrate for Bordetella pertussis toxin. The relevance of CD69 in the activation process is also suggested by the broad range of signals able to modulate CD69 on T cells. In fact, not only the mitogens or the CD3-promoted activation, but also the alternative pathways mediated by CD2 or CD28 are accompanied by CD69 expression; moreover a very rapid and transient appearance of CD69 on the cell surface is observed also in response to a stimulus not specifically involved in T cell activation such as heat shock. Finally we demonstrate that CD69 is present in the cytoplasm of nonactivated T cells; accordingly its surface expression at the onset of activation is independent on a new RNA or protein synthesis.

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