Splice variants of the glycoprotein CD44 (CD44v) that confer metastatic behavior to noninvasively growing rat tumor cells are transiently expressed on lymphocytes during activation. A mAb directed against an epitope encoded by CD44 exon v6 blocks both metastasis formations and lymphocyte activation, implicating CD44v in normal immune function. To explore the nature of this function of CD44v, transgenic mice were generated that constitutively express rat CD44v4-v7 on thymocytes and peripheral T cells. The number of lymphocytes as well as the distribution of lymphocyte subpopulations were similar in nontransgenic and rat CD44v4-v7 transgenic mice. T cells of the transgenic mice, however, responded faster to activating stimuli, particularly during primary stimulations with T cell mitogens and T-dependent Ags in vivo and in vitro. This accelerated response depended on the expression of the transgene product, since a rat CD44v6-specific Ab reverted the response profiles of the transgenic mice to those of nontransgenic mice. Since the transgene gained in vivo and in vitro functional activity only upon antigenic stimulation, it is likely that CD44 variant isoforms are involved in the process of signal transduction during lymphocyte activation.

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