The influence of costimulation on the primary response of CD8+ T cells to class I alloantigens was studied with the aid of a T cell receptor transgenic model and defined peptides as antigen. With small doses of antigen, the proliferative response of CD8+ cells was high early in culture but was of brief duration and declined to low levels by day 4; this abbreviated response was associated with limited production of interleukin 2 (IL-2) and was strongly dependent upon costimulation via CD8-major histocompatibility complex class I and CD28-B7 interactions. The response to large doses of antigen was quite different in two respects. First, large doses of antigen inhibited the early (day 3) proliferative response but caused a marked elevation of the response late in culture (day 5); these altered kinetics were associated with increased production of IL-2. Second, the initial proliferative response to large doses of antigen did not require costimulation: indeed, blocking costimulation with CTLA4lg or anti-CD8 monoclonal antibody enhanced the early proliferative response. However, blocking costimulation impaired IL-2 production and prevented the late proliferative response. These findings indicate that the requirement for costimulation of T cells can be partly overcome by increasing the dose of antigen to a high level. However, costimulation plays a key role in prolonging the response, presumably by triggering strong and sustained production of IL-2.

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