The proliferative activity of thymocytes cultured with IL-2 and submitogenic concentrations of PHA is increased by 3- to 10-fold in the presence of IL-4. In contrast, IL-4 alone is unable to induce proliferative activity in thymocyte cultures and its synergistic activity is only apparent to concentrations of IL-2 above 1 U/ml. The costimulatory activity of IL-4 is abrogated by the monoclonal anti-IL-4 antibody 11B11. Furthermore, potentiation of the IL-2-mediated thymocyte proliferation is not seen with IL-1, IL-3, IFN-gamma, and granulocyte-macrophage CSF. Thymocytes are at least as responsive to IL-4 as B cells and the IL-4 costimulatory activity in fractionated thymocytes appears to be restricted mainly to the Lyt-2+/L3T4- population. In contrast, purified resting mature T cells do not respond to IL-4 plus IL-2, although they did proliferate in response to IL-4 in combination with PMA. These findings indicate that thymocytes and mature T cells are responsive to the costimulatory activity of IL-4 under quite different conditions, and that IL-4 may play an important role in thymocyte maturation in the thymus.

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