The development of autoimmune disease in the MRL/MpJ-lpr inbred mouse strain depends upon the maturation of a subset of T lymphocytes that may cause sustained activation of immunological effector cells such as B cells and macrophages. We tested the hypothesis that abnormal effector cell activation reflects constitutive overexpression of a T cell cytokine. We found that a newly defined T cell cytokine, Eta-1, is expressed at very high levels in T cells from MRL/l mice but not normal mouse strains and in a CD4-8- 45R+ T cell clone. The Eta-1 gene encodes a secreted protein that binds specifically to macrophages, possibly via a cell adhesion receptor, resulting in alterations in the mobility and activation state of this cell type (Patarca, R., G. J. Freeman, R. P. Singh, et al. 1989. J. Exp. Med. 170:145; Singh, R. P., R. Patarca, J. Schwartz, P. Singh, and H. Cantor. 1990. J. Exp. Med. 171:1931). In addition, recent studies have indicated that Eta-1 can enhance secretion of IgM and IgG by mixtures of macrophages and B cells (Patarca, R., M. A. Lampe, M. V. Iregai, and H. Cantor, manuscript in preparation). Dysregulation of Eta-1 expression begins at the onset of autoimmune disease and continues throughout the course of this disorder. Maximal levels of Eta-1 expression and the development of severe autoimmune disease reflect the combined contribution of the lpr gene and MRL background genes.

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