A murine T lymphocyte proliferation assay that used antigen-primed lymph node T cells, was antigen specific, and required exogenous accessory cells was used to characterize the accessory cells that supported proliferation. These cells were Thy 1.2 negative, radioresistant, glass-adherent, and were functional only if alive. The accessory cell function of spleen adherent cells was much greater than that of peritoneal cells. Also, the accessory cell function of spleen adherent cells was proportional to the length of time such cells were incubated with antigen and very small numbers of such cells provided accessory cell function. Cytotoxic studies with subregion-restricted anti-Ia antibodies and complement indicated that accessory cell function resided in a subpopulation of spleen adherent cells that bore both I-A and I-E or C subregion antigens. The function of such cells was not related to a selective ability (vs other spleen adherent cells) to take up antigen. These data indicate that antigen-specific stimulation of T lymphocyte proliferation requires at least one specific subpopulation of spleen adherent cells that can be phenotypically identified by its expression of Ia antigens and are consistent with the possibility that Ia antigens may be Ir gene products.

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