It has previously been demonstrated that mature mouse T cells live for many weeks in vivo. In contrast, explanted lymph node or splenic T cells undergo spontaneous death within days, suggesting that survival factors supplied in vivo are not present in normal tissue culture medium. We discovered that IL-6 can rescue resting T cells from apoptosis in vitro. We show that recombinant mouse IL-6 as well as IL-6 in endothelial cell supernatants are sufficient to rescue T cells from death in the absence of additional cytokines. We show that CD4+ T cells express Bcl-2 immediately following isolation from the mouse, but after 24 h in culture Bcl-2 is undetectable. If during this time period the T cells are incubated with rIL-6, Bcl-2 expression is not down-regulated. It is, therefore, possible that IL-6 rescue from death is mediated by maintenance or induction of Bcl-2 expression. Addition of rIL-6 does not by itself induce blastogenesis or proliferation, and therefore, this cytokine appears to be a true survival factor rather than a mitogenic factor for resting T cells. Together, these results support a potential role for IL-6 as one of the factors important for prolonging resting T cell survival in vivo.

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