The effects of soluble concanavalin A (Con A) or Con A-activated spleen cells on the generation of cytotoxic lymphocytes (CL) in mixed leukocyte cultures (MLC) were examined. Mitogenic concentrations of soluble Con A or small numbers of Con A-activated spleen cells substantially inhibited CL responses. The suppression was partial rather than absolute and was critically dependent upon the concentration and time of addition of soluble Con A or Con A-activated spleen cells to the MLC.
Suppressive effects of Con-A activated spleen cells were mediated by T cells since suppressor cell activity was abrogated by treatment of spleen cells with anti-θ serum and complement before or after Con A activation. X irradiation of spleen cells before Con A treatment also abrogated generation of suppressor cell activity. After activation by Con A, however, the function of suppressor cells was radioresistant.
Although the precise mechanism(s) of suppression is, as yet, unknown, the precursors of CL must be exposed to Con A-activated cells during the early phases of the immune response for suppression to occur. Kinetic studies revealed that suppression of CL responses was not due to a failure to initiate an immune response, but represented a response which developed initially, but subsequently aborted. The relevance of these observations to the concepts of T-cell-T-cell interaction and regulatory control of immune responses by T cells is discussed.