Immunoglobulins were isolated from the surfaces of lymphocytes from a variety of lymphocyte populations including murine and human thymus lymphocytes and murine spleen and thoracic duct lymphocytes. Cell surface proteins were labeled with iodide-125I by lactoperoxidase-catalyzed iodination, and recovered in solution either by solubilization in dissociating solvents or active metabolic release. Immunoglobulins were identified and isolated by immunological coprecipitation. The polypeptide chain structure of immunoglobulins isolated from lymphocyte surfaces was analyzed by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of reduced, alkylated samples in acid urea. Human and murine thymus lymphocytes possessed only IgM immunoglobulin on their surfaces. This protein contained light chains and µ-type heavy chains and was characterized by a molecular weight of approximately 200,000. Murine splenic lymphocytes from CBA x C57 animals and congenitally athymic (nu/nu) mice possessed both IgM and IgG on their surfaces. The ratio of µ-chain to γ-chain was about 3/1. The presence of IgM on thymus lymphocytes probably does not reflect trace contamination by B lymphocytes because comparable quantities of IgM were isolated from both cell populations. Metabolic turnover data suggest that this immunoglobulin is synthesized by the cell population studied.
These results provide direct evidence for the presence of immunoglobulins composed of light and heavy polypeptide chains on the surfaces of lymphocytes of all classes.