Autosensitization of rat or mouse lymphoid cells against syngeneic fibroblast antigens was induced in cell culture. Rat lymphoid cells autosensitized by this method were able to produce immunospecific lysis of syngeneic target fibroblasts in vitro or GvH reactions in newborn rats. Autosensitized mouse spleen cells mediated similar GvH reactions when injected into newborn mice.
The nature of the system used to induce immunity in vitro appears to argue against the possibility that lymphocytes capable of reacting against self-antigens could arise by mutation in cell culture. Hence, it is likely that cells potentially reactive against self-antigens preexisted in the lymphoid cell donors. The ability of autosensitized cells to mediate immune reactions in vivo suggests that the immunogenic self-antigens present on sensitizing fibroblasts also were accessible in the intact animals.
Loss of natural self-tolerance in vitro, therefore, can be explained most simply by the existence of lymphocytes which are reversibly tolerant to self. Hence, ontogenic elimination of potentially self-reactive cells may not be the only basis for natural tolerance. Regulatory mechanisms, such as antigen excess, may have to function in vivo to prevent differentiation of self-tolerant lymphocytes. These regulatory mechanisms appear to be annulled in the cell-culture system. The present system thus may offer a new approach to studies of tolerance and regulation of cellular immunity.