Naturally occurring suppressor cells of the in vitro mixed leukocyte culture reaction and of in vivo graft-vs.-host disease have been identified in the spleens of neonatal mice (1) and of adult mice recovering from total lymphoid irradiation (2), whole-body irradiation (3), and syngeneic marrow transplantation (4), or cyclophosphamide therapy (5). Using both positive and negative selection procedures, the suppressors were reported to be null lymphocytes that did not express mature macrophage surface markers, nor differentiate into mature macrophages in vitro, nor demonstrate natural killer (NK) activity (1). Subsequently, cloned lines of these natural suppressor (NS) cells were derived from either adult mice given total lymphoid irradiation (TLI) (2) or from neonates (6). The cloned NS cell lines expressed a surface phenotype (2, 6) similar to that reported previously for cloned NK cells (Thy-1(+), asialo-GM1(+), Ig(-), Lyt-1(-), Lyt-2(-), Ia(-), MAC-1(-)) (7-9). However, the NS cells did not show NK activity in the standard assay with YAC-1 target cells. The cloned NS lines suppressed the proliferation of responder cells and the generation of cytolytic cells in the mixed leukocyte reaction (MLR), and suppressed lethal graft-vs.-host disease in vivo (10, 11). In view of the unusual function and surface phenotype of the cells, the lineage of these cells remained unclear.

To determine the lineage of the cloned NS cells, we searched for expression and rearrangement of the α and β chain genes of the T cell antigen receptor, as well as that of the γ chain gene. Studies of the phenotypically similar NK cell yielded conflicting results. Thus, cloned lines of murine NK cells were reported to have rearrangements of the β chain genes, and to express mRNA for all three chains (12). In contrast, freshly purified rat or human large granular lymphocytes (LGL) were shown to express only the 1.0 kb mRNA species of the β chain gene (13), indicative of D-J joining (14). Thus, some but not all cells with NK function express the T cell receptor and are members of the T cell lineage. The current report shows that the NS lines express full-length mRNA transcripts for the a and β chain of the T cell receptor, as well as the γ chain gene.

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