A general method is described for enumerating antigen-sensitive lymphocytes obtained from individuals having delayed hypersensitivity, in this case from highly tuberculin-sensitive guinea pigs. The method is based on the observation that resting lymphocytes are generally unable to support replication of RNA viruses, whereas antigen-"activated" lymphocytes can.
Lymph node lymphocytes from individual animals were cultured in the presence or absence of tuberculin purified protein derivatives (PPD). After various periods of time, the cells were infected either with Newcastle disease virus or vesicular stomatitis virus, and plated in agar over a monolayer of cells susceptible to the virus. Wherever a lymphocyte yielded infectious virus, a discrete plaque in the monolayer could be seen. The increase in plaques of the antigen-stimulated cells over the background of the control sample was taken as the number of antigen-sensitive cells in the population. When lymphocytes from normal guinea pigs or from guinea pigs immunized to produce only circulating antibody to PPD were similarly tested, no increase in plaque-forming units (PFU) was observed.
The average increase in PFU due to antigenic stimulation varied from 1 per 1000 lymphocytes at 24 hr to 16 per 1000 lymphocytes at 96 hr. By employing inhibitors of mitosis (colchicine, vinblastine, and thymidine) it was evident that the increase in PFU at least up to 48 hr was primarily due to initial antigen-reactive cells and not their progeny.