Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), a major alpha-globulin component of fetal and newborn sera, has earlier been shown to exert significant immunosuppressive activity in vitro on T-dependent-immune responses. In the present investigation we have examined the effects of AFP on the recognition and proliferation of T lymphocytes responding in mixed leukocyte culture against histocompatibility-associated alloantigens. Fetal-derived AFP could be shown to exert differential effects on both primary and secondary responses ranging from strong inhibition to occasional enhancement, depending on the stimulating antigens. Proliferative responses against major histocompatibility complex (MHC) I region determinants, mediated predominantly by Ly 1 + cells, were markedly suppressed. Suppression was also observed in responses against Mls locus products, an antigenic system whose recognition requires concomitant recognition of I region gene products on the stimulating cells. In contrast, responses against MHC K or D region determinants, mediated predominantly by Ly 2 + cells, were generally unaffected by AFP. Similarly, non-MHC loci alloantigens distinct from Mls locus products also induced T-cell proliferation which was refractive to suppression by AFP. Because neither Ly 1 + nor Ly 2 + cells responding in this latter situation could be inhibited by AFP, we concluded that the mere fact that a T cell expresses a particular Ly phenotype does not predetermine sensitivity to AFP-induced suppression. In any case, AFP exerts a highly selective suppressive activity on I region-associated immune responses. These data may help to resolve the present controversy over the possibility that AFP has an in vivo relevance as an immunosuppressive agent by pointing out the importance of selecting proper genetic situations for study.

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