The natural immune response in mice to their endogenous type-C viruses involves a complex interaction between cellular and humoral immune mechanisms. The virus-specific immune reactivities are a function of age and appear only subsequent to endogenous virus expression. Cellular immune activity was found to reside in a population of lymphocytes that were characterized as natural killer cells based on their absence of theta surface antigens or immunoglobulin or complement receptors. Cellular and humoral virus-specific immune responses co-occur in the same animal and pretreatment of virus-positive target cells with sera from virus-positive aging mice is capable of partially blocking the cytotoxic activity of reactive lymphocytes. The blocking activity of sera from individual mice increases as a function of age and endogenous virus expression and is highly correlated with the virus-specific complement-dependent cytotoxic activity of these sera. Mouse sera, whether naturally immune or immune as a result of hyperimmunization with type-C virus, exhibit blocking activity that can be removed by absorption with purified type-C virus or purified viral glycoprotein (gp 70) but not by absorption with noninfected syngeneic cells. High-titered and highly specific antisera directed against certain individual R-MuLV structural proteins reveal blocking activity. Monospecific antisera to gp 70 and p 12 exhibited high-titered blocking reactivities which are absorbable by the respective purified proteins. Blocking activity of antisera directed against other viral structural proteins could not be excluded with certainty. These findings raise the possibility that immunity in the mouse to endogenous type-C virus or virus-infected cells involves competition between serum-blocking activity and natural-killer cell activity and further provides a unique model system for studying the mechanism of action of blocking antisera known to have monospecific reactivity against defined and purifiable transplantation antigens.

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