The virus plaque assay has been successfully employed to enumerate antigen-sensitive cells in the peripheral blood lymphocyte populations of tuberculin-hypersensitive human donors. The method is based on the finding that, while resting lymphocytes are unable to produce a variety of viruses upon infection, lymphocytes activated by specific antigens become capable of virus replication. The average number of antigen-sensitive cells detected in cell populations from donors reacting to first test strength or intermediate test strength tuberculin was approximately 3.6/1000 lymphocytes, and the averages for both groups were similar.
Studies on the kinetics of appearance of these virus plaque-forming cells and on the effects of the mitotic inhibitor, vinblastine, indicate that the activation of these antigen-sensitive cells is a linear process and that the cells must be nondividing cells during this process. These qualities contrast markedly with those described for the mitogenic response and the antibody-producing cells which require cell division and increase exponentially. On the basis of these experiments it is suggested that the antigen-sensitive cell measured in the virus plaque assay is the effector cell in delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions and, in addition, may be one of the cells critically involved in antibody formation.