Generation of cytotoxic effector cells by a unidirectional mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) in the mouse H-2 system was studied using labeled YAC (H-2a) leukemia cells as targets. The responding effector cell displayed a specific cytotoxic effect against target cells of the same H-2 genotype as the stimulating cell population. Killing of syngeneic H-2 cells was not observed, even when the labeled target cells were "innocent bystanders" in cultures where specific target cells were reintroduced. Similar results were found with spleen cells taken from mice sensitized in vivo 7 days earlier. The effector cell was not an adherent cell and was not activated by supernatants from MLR. The supernatants were not cytotoxic by themselves. When concanavalin A or phytohemagglutinin was added to the cytotoxic test system, target and effector cells were agglutinated. Under these conditions, killing of H-2a target cells was observed in mixed cultures where H-2a lymphocytes were also the effector cells. These findings indicate that specifically activated, probably thymus-derived lymphocytes, can kill nonspecifically once they have been activated and providing there is close contact between effector and target cells. Thus, specificity of T cell killing appears to be restricted to recognition and subsequent binding to the targets, the actual effector phase being nonspecific.

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