Specific immunological unresponsiveness was induced using thymus-dependent antigens in congenitally athymic (nu/nu) mice, in which no T-cell function has been demonstrated. The tolerance was induced in vivo by the injection of 5–10 mg of either FGG or DNP-HGG.

Spleen cells from treated mice were tested in vitro for the ability to mount thymus-independent immune responses against FGG in the presence of polymerized flagellin POL, and the DNP determinant conjugated to POL. A specific deficiency in either the in vitro anti-FGG or anti-DNP response was demonstrated, depending on the antigen used for treatment of the spleen cell donor. Athymic mice treated with FGG were also tested by in vivo challenge with FGG given with POL as an adjuvant and were found to be hyporesponsive.

Unresponsiveness to in vitro challenge was established by 24 h after the in vivo injection of FGG. It was found that the injection of POL with the FGG prevented the development of unresponsiveness, but not if the POL was given 24 h or more after the FGG.

The unresponsiveness could not be overcome by confrontation with allogeneic spleen cells from CBA mice, although the presence of allogeneic spleen cells had a large amplifying effect on the response of control spleen cells. These experiments demonstrate a mechanism for the tolerization of bone marrow-derived cells by thymus-dependent antigens in the absence of the thymus.

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