A cell-free product secreted by Ly1-2+ T cells (Ly2 TsF) can suppress the in vitro response to sheep erythrocytes (SRBC) of spleen cells depleted of Ly2+ T cells. This suppressor factor expresses biological activity only when the acceptor cells share major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-linked polymorphic genes with the cells that made the Ly2 TsF. Removal of Ly1 I-J+ cells from the assay culture abrogates the ability of Ly2 TsF to suppress these cultures, but we can replace the need for the I-J+ cells in the assay culture with an I-J+ soluble factor derived from them. We investigated the cellular interactions involved in the activation of I-J+ cells by Ly2 TsF in vitro. We have been able to induce the production of an I-J+ molecule needed for Ly2 TsF activity in a 48-h intermediate culture of B cell-depleted Ly1 spleen cells, Ly2 TsF, and antigen. This molecule not only fails to bind antigen, but is also antigen nonspecific in that it can be induced by Ly2 TsF of irrelevant specificities. In order to replace the activity of the Ly1 I-J+ cell in the assay culture, the cell induced by Ly2 TsF to produce the I-J+ molecule in vitro must share genetic polymorphisms linked to the MHC with the Ly2 TsF, and genetic polymorphisms linked to the Igh-V gene complex with the target cell. In order for Ly2 TsF to induce cells of the primary culture to produce the I-J+ molecule, Ly2 TsF must share genetic polymorphisms linked to the IE region of the MHC with the Ly1 I-J+ cell producing the I-J+ molecule. These results indicate that the suppressive mechanism of Ly2 TsF involves the interaction with an Ly1 I-J+ molecule. This I-J+ molecule serves to focus the antigen-specific suppressor molecule on the target cell. The recognition event of this suppressive complex on the surface of the acceptor cell is controlled by Igh-V-linked genes restricted by the I-J+ molecule of the suppressor complex. This suppressor interaction is confined to the suppressor effector phase of the suppressor circuit since the I-J+ molecules needed for by Ly2 TsF activity do not substitute for the I-J+ molecules needed for the activity of Ly1 TsiF , a T cell factor that initiates the suppressor cell circuit.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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