CD8+ T cells have suppressor effector functions, but the mechanisms involved in the generation of this activity are poorly understood. We report that natural killer (NK) cells have an important role in the acquisition of this function. CD8+ cells induce NK cells to produce transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) which, in turn, stimulates CD8+ T cells to become suppressors of antibody production. Using a monocyte-dependent and -independent method to induce antibody production, we first observed that the addition of NK cells to CD8+ cells was required for optimal suppression. Next, we determined that the interaction of CD8+ T cells with NK cells resulted in a striking increase NK cell TGF-beta mRNA and its production. This cytokine appeared to be involved in the induction of T suppressor cell activity since: (a) anti-TGF-beta 1 completely abrogated the suppression of immunoglobulin G synthesis; (b) TGF-beta 1 could substitute for NK cells in inducing CD8+ T cells to develop suppressor activity; and (c) a short exposure of T cells to TGF-beta 1 in the absence of B cells was sufficient for the generation of suppressor activity by CD8+ T cells. Interferon gamma did not have this property. These studies provide strong evidence that in addition to its suppressive properties, TGF-beta is involved in the generation of CD8+ T suppressor effector cells. Because NK cell function is decreased in many autoimmune diseases, these cells may fail to interact properly with these individuals' CD8+ cells in generating suppressors of aggressive anti-self responses.

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