We have investigated suppressor T-cell activity in female NZB/NZW F1 mice using PWM-driven IgM biosynthesis in vitro as an indicator system. In initial we studied we observed that spleen cells from normal mice (BALB/c, C57BL/6), as well as from young (4 wk) and adult (18 wk) NZB/NZW mice, cultured in the presence of PWM synthesize 860 +/- 120 ng IgM/10(6) cells/7 days. However, when Con A (at 2 mug/ml) was added directly to the cultures (along with PWM), cells obtained from adult normal mice and young NZB/NZW mice showed a 94% suppression of IgM synthesis, whereas cells obtained from adult NZB/NZW mice were suppressed significantly less. To analyze these findings we studied the effect of Con A-induced suppressor cells (cells cultured with Con A for 24 h and washed free of Con A) on PWM-driven IgM biosynthesis. Spleen cells obtained from normal mice cultured in the presence of Con A-pulsed cells obtained from normal mice and young NZB/NZW mice showed an 83-88% suppression of PWM-driven IgM synthesis. Similarly, supernates obtained from Con A-pulsed cells of normal mice or of young NZB/NZW mice suppressed PWM-driven IgM synthesis. This suppression by Con A-pulsed cells and their supernates required T cells since T-cell fractions but not B-cell fractions eluted from anti-Fab Sephadex columns mediated suppression of co-cultured normal cells; in addition, Con A-pulsed cells treated with anti-theta and complement do not mediate suppression. These studies of Con A-induced suppressor cell activity in normal mice and young NZB/NZW mice contrast with studies of Con A-induced suppressor cell activity in adult NZB/NZW mice. We found that adult NZB/NZW Con A-pulsed cells and supernates obtained from the Con A-pulse cells had vastly decreased suppressor potential; in this case the Con A-pulse cells and supernatant fluids derived from such cells did not suppress PWM-driven IgM synthesis by normal cells. Finally, whereas spleen cells from young and adult NZB/NZW mice differ in their suppressor cell potential, cells from both sources could respond equally to suppressor signals in that Con A-pulsed normal cells or supernates derived from such cells caused equivalent suppression of PWM-driven IgM synthesis by young and adult NZB/NZW cells. These observations allow us to conclude that NZB/NZW mice lose suppressor T-cell activity as they age.

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