The lymphocyte activation gene 3 (LAG-3), expressed in human activated T and natural killer (NK) cells, is closely related to CD4 at the gene and protein levels. We report here the initial characterization of the LAG-3-encoded protein. We have generated two monoclonal antibodies after immunization of mice with a 30-amino acid peptide that corresponds to an exposed extra loop region present in the LAG-3 immunoglobulin-like first domain. The reactivity of these reagents is directed against LAG-3 since they recognize both membrane-expressed and soluble recombinant LAG-3 molecules produced in a baculovirus expression system. The two antibodies are likely to react with the same or closely related epitope (termed LAG-3.1) exposed on the LAG-3 first domain extra loop, as assessed in competition experiments on LAG-3-expressing activated lymphocytes. Cellular distribution analysis indicated that the LAG-3.1 epitope is expressed on activated T (both CD4+ and CD8+ subsets) and NK cells, and not on activated B cells or monocytes. In immunoprecipitation experiments performed on activated T and NK cell lysates, a 70-kD protein was detected after SDS-PAGE analysis. 45-kD protein species were also immunoprecipitated. Both the 70- and 45-kD proteins were shown to be N-glycosylated. In Western blot analysis, only the former molecule was recognized by the anti-LAG-3 antibodies, demonstrating that it is LAG-3 encoded. These anti-LAG-3 antibodies were used to investigate whether the LAG-3 protein interacts with the CD4 ligands. By using a high-level expression cellular system based on COS-7 cell transfection with recombinant CDM8 vectors and a quantitative cellular adhesion assay, we demonstrate that rosette formation between LAG-3-transfected COS-7 cells and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II-bearing B lymphocytes is specifically dependent on LAG-3/HLA class II interaction. In contrast to CD4, LAG-3 does not bind the human immunodeficiency virus gp120. This initial characterization will guide further studies on the functions of this molecule, which may play an important role in immune responses mediated by T and NK lymphocytes.

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