To study the factors that determine whether CD4+ T cells produce interleukin 4 (IL-4) or interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) upon stimulation we used a system allowing naive T cells to be primed in vitro by specific antigen. Dense CD4+ T cells were purified from mice that expressed transgenes encoding a T cell receptor specific for pigeon cytochrome C peptide 88-104 in association with I-Ek. These T cells produced very limited amounts of IL-4 and IFN-gamma upon immediate challenge with 88-104 and antigen-presenting cells (APC). However, after an initial "priming" culture in which they were incubated for 4 d in the presence of 88-104, APC, and 1,000 U/ml IL-4, the T cells acquired the capacity to produce substantial amounts of IL-4 upon rechallenge but made very little IFN-gamma. Cells primed in the absence of IL-4 produced IFN-gamma upon rechallenge but virtually no IL-4. The inhibitory effect of IL-4 on IFN-gamma production did not appear to be mediated by the induction of IL-10 production since IL-10 addition to initial cultures did not suppress priming for IFN-gamma production, nor did anti-IL-10 block the inhibitory effect of IL-4. IFN-gamma itself did not increase priming for IFN-gamma production, nor did anti-IFN-gamma reduce such priming. IFN-gamma did, however, diminish priming for IL-4 production when limiting amounts of IL-4 (100 U/ml) were used in the initial culture. The dominant effect of IL-4 in determining the lymphokine-producing phenotype of primed cells was observed with dendritic cells (DC), activated B cells, and I-Ek-transfected fibroblasts as APC. However, the different APC did vary in their potency, with DC being superior to activated B cells, which were superior to transfected fibroblasts.

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