Immunoconjugates consisting of mAb covalently coupled to plant or bacterial toxins or to cytotoxic drugs have provided novel experimental reagents for the treatment of malignancies and autoimmune diseases. In this report, we analyzed the efficacy of three ricin A chain-containing immunotoxins (IT-A) which recognize different epitopes on the CD2 molecule (E rosette receptor) on human T cells. Although all IT-A had similar binding avidities and A-chain activities, one (RFT11-A) was 100-1000-fold more effective in killing normal and malignant T cells than the others (35.1-A, 9.6-A). Immunoprecipitation experiments confirmed that all IT-A bound to the CD2 molecule. However, cross-blocking experiments, differential proteolysis with trypsin, and T cell co-activation experiments showed that the less effective IT-A, 35.1-A and 9.6-A, bound to an epitope far from the cell membrane (region I), whereas the more effective IT-A, RFT11-A bound to an epitope closer to the membrane (region II). Using cellular RIA and immunoelectron microscopy, it was shown that both RFT11-A and 35.1-A were rapidly internalized by T cells, but that their intracellular fates differed. The more toxic IT-A, RFT11-A, was retained for longer periods of time inside the cells and was more slowly degraded than the less effective IT-A, 35.1-A, which was rapidly transported to lysosomes, digested, and expelled. These results demonstrate that different IT-A targeting the same surface molecule can differ markedly in potency, and that the epitope recognized by an IT-A may have a significant impact on the ability of the IT-A to insert into cell membranes, translocate to the cytosol, and kill cells.

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