A comparative study of immune functions of CD4+8- T cells isolated from normal and athymic nude mice by electronic cell sorting was performed. Athymic nude CD4+8- T cells expressed the TCR-associated CD3 molecule but the level of expression was significantly lower than that of normal CD4+8- T cells. Proliferative responses were studied upon stimulation by 1) the T cell mitogen Con A; 2) anti-CD3 mediated cross-linking of the CD3:TCR complex, and 3) the combined action of PMA + ionomycin. All three mitogenic stimuli caused readily detectable cell division in normal (euthymic) CD4+8- T cells. In marked contrast, none of the mitogenic stimuli induced significant proliferation in athymic nude CD4+8- T cells. The failure of athymic nude CD4+8- T cells to proliferate occurred over a wide range of mitogen concentrations and over a 4-day observation period. Neither exogenously supplied rIL-2 or mixed lymphocyte culture supernatant had any effect on the impaired proliferative response by athymic nude CD4+8- T cells. Although IL-2 was produced by athymic nude CD4+8- T cells at a reduced level when compared to normal CD4+8- T cells, it was nevertheless readily detected upon stimulation with either Con A or anti-CD3. Furthermore, stimulation of athymic nude CD4+8- T cells by anti-CD3 induced the expression of the p55 chain of IL-2R on the cell surface. Therefore, despite production of IL-2 and induced expression of IL-2R, athymic nude CD4+8- T cells failed to undergo cell division.

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