Specific HLA molecules have recently been shown to confer target cell resistance to lysis by some CD3- natural killer (NK) cells. For certain NK clones, resistance is governed by two specificities (NK1 and NK2) that are associated with particular HLA-C alleles: in general, target cells expressing Cw1, Cw3, Cw7, or Cw8 are susceptible to NK1 but resistant to NK2 clones, whereas target cells expressing Cw2, Cw4, Cw5, or Cw6 are susceptible to NK2 and resistant to NK1 cells. These two clusters of HLA-C alleles are distinguished by a dimorphism in the alpha 1 helical region, localized at amino acid positions 77 and 80. In this report, we show that highly enriched CD3+/CD56- cytotoxic T cell sublines and CD3-/CD56+ NK sublines derived from the same donor have identical cytolytic specificities when tested against a panel of allogeneic LCL and various HLA-B and -C transfectant cell lines. The lysis pattern of the allogeneic cells appeared to be related to the NK2 specificity for both effector cells: LCL expressing HLA-Cw2, Cw4, Cw5, or Cw6 alleles were lysed, while LCL expressing HLA-Cw1, Cw3, or Cw7 molecules were resistant. Resistance to lysis could be conferred to susceptible target cells by transfection with a Cw*0702 gene, while expression of a Cw*0602 gene did not provide protection. Similar patterns of HLA-C-mediated resistance were also found with two polyclonal T cell lines generated from the peripheral blood lymphocytes of unrelated donors. Thus, major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules that induced resistance to particular NK cells also regulated target cell resistance to lysis by these non-MHC-restricted effector T cells. For both types of effector cells, direct binding to HLA-C molecules was necessary to achieve inhibition since preincubation with mAb specific for class I molecules destroyed the protection from lysis of HLA-Cw7 expressing target cells. mAbs specific for CD3 and CD8 molecules had no influence on lysis or inhibition of the NK-like T cells. Formation of MHC complexes with particular peptides did not appear to be essential to confer resistance, since a cell line with defective peptide transporter genes (TAP genes), when transfected with an appropriate HLA-C allele, was as resistant to lysis as HLA-C transfectant lines with normal TAP function. These results suggest that HLA-C molecules may deliver negative regulatory signals to some non-MHC-restricted T cells in a manner similar to that described previously for particular NK cells.

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