During the course of investigating the regulation of IL-2-dependent T cell proliferation, we found that the subset of human T cells expressing the T4 surface glycoprotein become refractory to IL-2 growth promotion earlier than T8+ cells. Since T4+ cells proliferate in an autocrine fashion to endogenous IL-2, whereas most T8+ cells respond in a paracrine fashion to IL-2 derived from T4+ cells, we thought it likely that a unique mechanism was operative to restrict T4+ cell IL-2-dependent autocrine proliferation. Moreover, we anticipated that the T4+ cell IL-2-refractory state related either to suppression by T8+ cells, or to expression of T4+ cell IL-2-R. However, several experimental approaches did not support either of these mechanisms as being responsible for the loss of T4+ cell IL-2 responsiveness. Isolated T4+ cells ceased to respond to IL-2 well before T8+ cells, and before the disappearance of adequate levels of IL-2-R. Moreover, a detailed comparison of IL-2-R expression by T4+ vs. T8+ cells revealed no differences in the number, affinity, rate of expression, or functional activity of high-affinity IL-2-R expressed by the two subsets. Accordingly, T4+ cell autocrine IL-2 responsiveness is restricted by a mechanism that is independent of IL-2-R, and which ultimately results in cessation of both T4+ and T8+ cell IL-2-dependent clonal expansion.

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