In vitro studies were performed to determine the proliferative responsiveness of human peripheral blood thymus-dependent (T) and thymus-independent (B) lymphocytes to phytomitogens and allogeneic lymphocytes. Recombination of T and B cells, with selective inhibition of proliferation of one of the two populations, was used to identify cellular interactions which may contribute to cell proliferation. The distinctive feature of human T lymphocytes to form rosettes with unsensitized sheep erythrocytes was utilized to separate human peripheral blood lymphocytes into highly purified resetting (T) and non-rosetting (B) cells. The proliferative response of these separated lymphocyte subpopulations to various stimulants was assessed from the uptake of tritiated thymidine into DNA.
Phytohemagglutinin, concanavalin A, pokeweed mitogen, and allogeneic lymphocytes stimulated separated T cells, whereas no proliferation was observed with the T-cell-depleted B-cell population. This suggests that it is the human T cell which is activated directly by these stimulants. In the presence of T cells (proliferating or nonproliferating), B cells were capable of proliferation following stimulation with phytomitogens, but not in response to histocompatibility antigens. Thus, T-cell-mediated B-cell proliferation contributes to the overall lymphocyte response in phytomitogen-stimulated T + B cell mixtures, but not in human mixed leukocyte cultures. T-cell activation by allogeneic cells required the presence of monocytes; in contrast, the three tested phytomitogens stimulated T cells in the absence of monocytes. This indicates that direct interaction of mitogens with lymphocyte membrane receptors is sufficient to trigger T cells into proliferative response. However, monocytes considerably enhanced the proliferative response of T cells in a dose-dependent fashion; this monocyte-dependent mechanism of T-cell activation was predominant at lower concentrations of phytomitogens, and contributed relatively less at higher mitogen doses. Both, the direct, monocyte-independent, and the indirect, monocyte-dependent T-lymphocyte activation contribute to the total in vitro response of lymphocyte preparations to phytomitogens.