Acute and chronic graft-vs-host disease (GVHD) due to non-MHC histocompatibility differences differ histopathologically. Acute GVHD is characterized by the cytotoxic destruction of recipient tissues, whereas chronic GVHD is characterized by increased collagen deposition. In an attempt to determine if acute and chronic GVHD represent two phases of the same pathophysiologic process or two distinct processes, the T lymphocytes from the C57BL/6 (B6) recipients of LP spleen cells (non-H-2 GVHD) have been cloned and compared to clones from immune mice (LP anti-B6). Acute GVHD (G) clones were established on day 10-14 posttransplant and chronic GVHD (CG) clones on day 50 from animals with clinical chronic GVHD. Immune (I) clones were established 10 to 14 days after immunization. All I clones exhibited B6-specific blastogenesis and cytotoxicity and had a Thy-1.2+, Lyt-2.2+, L3T4- phenotype. All CG clones were noncytotoxic, had I-Ab-specific blastogenesis, and had a Thy-1.2+, Lyt-2.2-, L3T4+ phenotype. The acute GVHD (G) clones were heterogeneous. Fourteen of 23 clones exhibited B6-specific blastogenesis and had a Lyt-2.2+, L3T4- phenotype (B6-G clones). Seven of 9 B6-G clones were cytotoxic for B6 targets. Nine of 23 G clones exhibited I-Ab-specific blastogenesis, and all but one clone had a Lyt-2.2-, L3T4+ phenotype as the did CG clones. Thus, the principal clonogenic T lymphocytes from mice with acute and chronic GVHD differ in terms of 1) their antigenic specificity, 2) their cytotoxic capacity, and 3) their surface phenotype. The presence of I-Ab-specific T lymphocytes with a phenotype identical to CG clones early after transplantation suggests that the immunologic events that result in chronic GVHD begin soon after transplantation. These results indicate that acute GVHD is due primarily to recipient-specific cytotoxic donor T lymphocytes, whereas chronic GVHD is due to autoreactive helper T lymphocytes.

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