Aged killer (AK) T cells are antigen-independent, IL-2-requiring variants of antigen-dependent CTL clones that have lost their original antigen specificity and have acquired, instead, specific cytotoxicity for P815 target cells. In this report we study whether AK cells use a similar or a different target cell recognition system than that of bona fide CTL. To this end, we selected from a cloned AK line variants that are partially or completely deficient in specific target recognition and/or in cytotoxic function, and analyzed these variants for expression of the T cell antigen receptor and of Lyt-2. Variants were selected from the prototype AK line (Cl 96) with specific, as well as lectin-facilitated, cytotoxicity for P815 tumor cells. Variants could be grouped into four types with increasing degrees of functional deficiency, which correlated with loss of T cell receptor and/or loss of Lyt-2. In short, loss of Lyt-2 was reflected in loss of specific target recognition, and loss of the T cell antigen receptor was reflected in loss of all cytotoxic activity. We conclude from these results that both Lyt-2 and the T cell antigen receptor are required for specific target cell recognition and the T cell antigen receptor is, in addition, required for cytotoxic function. Moreover, since AK cells express a somatically acquired specificity that differs from that of their clonal precursors, it appears that cytotoxic T cells may change their antigen receptor from one specificity to another during tissue culture.

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