Cell-surface antigens that are induced to appear on T cells activated by the lectin phytohemagglutinin-P (PHA) can be classified both on the basis of the kinetics of their appearance and on their growth-association properties. Seven distinct T cell activation antigens, defined by monoclonal antibodies, were classified as early, intermediate, or late antigens based on their temporal appearance relative to DNA synthesis. Four antigens, the transferrin receptor, the T cell activation antigen Tac, the 4F2 antigen, and the 49.9 antigen were early antigens, whereas the OKT10 antigen appeared at intermediate times and both HLA-DR and antigen 19.2 appeared late. The use of a dye, Hoechst 33342, which stains DNA stoichiometrically, allowed the simultaneous analysis of immunofluorescence and cell cycle position of individual cells. This analysis unexpectedly revealed that essentially all cells in the proliferative phase of the cell cycle expressed each of the four early-activation antigens. The correlation between expression of the four early-activation antigens and T cell proliferation suggests that these molecules are important for the growth of all T cells. The relationship of two of these activation antigens, known to be the receptors for transferrin and interleukin 2, a T cell growth factor, is discussed with special reference to the roles of their ligands in supporting the growth of T cells.

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