In vitro cultures of spleen cells (S) from normal 8–10-wk-old DBA/2J mice were shown to develop a small number of plaque-forming cells (PFC) that released antibodies lytic to syngenic and autologous thymus cells as well as to syngenic lymphoma L5178Y cells used as the target in the PFC assay. A marked increase in the number of PFC detectable on L5178Y target cells was demonstrated on day 4 in the cultures of S cells to which syngenic or autologous thymus cells had been added (S+T) at time 0, whereas the PFC detectable on thymus cells in such cultures remained at a level similar to that in S cultures. This suggested that two populations of PFC participated in the observed phenomena. No PFC developed in the culture of thymus cells (T). The addition of the cell-free supernatants of 24-h cultures of T or of L5178Y cells to syngenic S cultures also caused a specific increase in the number of the PFC detectable on L5178Y, which suggested that certain immunogenic factors released from the T cells stimulated the response observed in the S+T cultures.

Antibodies of IgM nature were detected in the supernatants of S+T cultures by means of cytolysis in agar of L5178Y cells. Although such antibodies did not cause lysis of thymus cells, they could be completely removed by absorption with normal adult or fetal thymus cells of syngenic origin. Still, the absorbing capacity of L5178Y was much higher than that of thymus cells. The absorption was more efficient at 4°C than at 22°C, and hardly any absorption occurred at 37°C. The tissue distribution of the antigen under study seemed to be restricted to thymus cells since no other murine tissue cells tested removed the antibodies.

The thymic antigen under study was not restricted to strain DBA/2J and could be demonstrated on thymus cells of all other strains tested. On the other hand, the ability of spleen cells to respond in vitro to this antigen has thus far been observed only in DBA/2J mice. Spleen cells of strains C57BL/6J and NZB/BINJ as well as (DBA/2 x NZB)F1 failed to show any significant increase in the PFC response detectable on the L5178Y target when syngenic thymus cells or DBA/2J thymus cells were added.

An intravenous injection of syngenic thymus cells to DBA/2J mice also caused the appearance in their spleens of PFC detectable on the L5178Y target.

The described in vitro system may provide a good means of studying the cellular basis of generation of self-tolerance and of its breakdown.

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