In general, the human CD8 molecule is expressed on T cells specific for HLA class I molecules. Studies designed to delineate the function and to define the ligand of the CD8 molecule have been complicated by the fact that the presumptive ligand for CD8 is on the HLA class I molecule, the same molecule encoding the ligand for the antigen-specific T cell receptor. The ability to express genes in cells other than their natural host has produced a new technology with which to approach CD8 functional studies. The insertion of a cDNA clone for CD8 in a defective retroviral vector has allowed the transfer of CD8 by infection with the resulting defective retrovirus. CD8 was then expressed in an HLA class II-specific T cell, thus separating the ligand requirements of the TCR and CD8. By this approach, the human CD8 molecule was expressed in a murine T cell hybridoma specific for human class II antigens. The resulting CD8+ hybridomas demonstrated a 10-fold increase in IL-2 production over the parent cell line when stimulated with JY, a human B lymphoblastoid cell line expressing both class I and II HLA antigens, demonstrating that expression of CD8 increases T cell activation. mAbs directed against the CD8 molecule inhibited the response of CD8+ hybridomas to JY, supporting the conclusion that the CD8 molecule was fractional. The role of CD8 as a receptor for class I MHC antigens was addressed by stimulation with a cell line expressing HLA-DR antigens, but lacking the expression of HLA class I antigens (Daudi). Stimulation of the CD8+ hybridomas by Daudi did not result in increased IL-2 production. The response to Daudi was unaltered by the addition of anti-CD8 mAb, in contrast to the ability of anti-CD8 mAb to block JY stimulation. Furthermore, mAbs directed against the class I antigens present on JY cells were able to block the enhanced response of the CD8+ hybridomas to JY. These data support the hypothesis that HLA class I molecules are the ligands involved in the CD8-dependent enhancement of T cell activation.

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