Immunofluorescence analysis of mammalian lymphocytes using antiserum directed against chicken erythrocyte alpha-spectrin revealed a lymphocyte population in which spectrin antigen was arranged in the form of a discrete cap (hereafter referred to as capped lymphocytes). This subset could be easily distinguished from other lymphocytes in which the spectrin antigen was diffusely distributed near the plasma membrane (noncapped lymphocytes). The subset of capped lymphocytes could be visualized in situ and in isolated cells in the absence of added ligand. Using frozen sections of lymphoid organs that were fixed in formaldehyde prior to the immunofluorescence procedure, capped lymphocytes were found in characteristic locations depending on the tissue examined. In the thymus, the major population of medullary lymphocytes were capped whereas cortical lymphocytes were mostly noncapped. In Peyer's patches, capped lymphocytes were interspersed with noncapped lymphocytes throughout the tissue. In the spleen, capped lymphocytes were concentrated in the periarterial lymphoid sheath of the white pulp and in lymph nodes they were found predominantly in the paracortical and cortical regions. Capped lymphocytes were not visible in the thymus until just before birth and did not appear in the spleen until 3 d after birth. When lymphocytes were isolated from lymphoid organs, fixed in formaldehyde and prepared for immunofluorescence, capped and noncapped lymphocytes were still identifiable and present in the same relative proportions as seen in situ. Results identical to those described above are obtained using antisera directed against guinea pig fodrin. Natural capping of proteins previously shown to co-migrate with a variety of cell surface macromolecules after cross-linking may be a new means of identifying various stages of lymphocyte activation or differentiation.

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