Co-culture of CBA/J spleen cells and certain lines of YAC-1 stimulators resulted in the appearance of NKCF-like activity in 24- to 48-hr supernatants. Numerous other in vitro cell lines were effective stimulators of this splenic cytotoxic factor (SCF). The cells participating in SCF production were absent from normal thymocytes and were present in BALB/c nu/nu spleen, were nonadherent, asialo GM1+, and bore low levels of Thy-1.2. SCF could mediate lysis of certain NK-sensitive tumor targets in an 18-hr 51Cr-release assay. However, the induction of SCF was not correlated with the ability of a particular cell line to be lysed by NK cells, but showed an absolute correlation with the presence of mycoplasma contamination in cultured tumor cell lines. Mycoplasma negative cell lines, including an uninfected but NK-sensitive subline of YAC-1, were unable to induce SCF. Decontamination of mycoplasma-infected lines with antibiotics or by passage through syngeneic mice abrogated the ability of infected tumor cells to stimulate SCF. The ability to induce SCF could be restored by reinfection with mycoplasma. Tumor cell-free supernatants from contaminated cultures were mitogenic for CBA spleen cells and could themselves induce SCF activity in spleen cell supernatants. SCF production and the agent responsible could be removed by passing such supernatants through 0.1-micron filters. The organism apparently responsible for SCF induction from CBA spleen cells was typed and found to be Mycoplasma orale, a nonfermentative, arginine-dependent, common tissue culture contaminant. About 50 to 60% of SCF activity could be removed by 0.1-micron filters, suggesting that SCF is composed of two components: mycoplasma organisms themselves and a soluble cytotoxic factor produced in response to mycoplasma.

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