Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), a major component of fetal and newborn sera, was shown to exert significant immunosuppressive activity on the in vitro generation of cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs). This suppression proved independent of the suppressibility of the mixed leukocyte culture activation phase, since strain combinations whose proliferative responses were refractive to AFP-induced suppression also failed to develop demonstrable CTLs in the presence of AFP. Several strain combinations were also found in which normal generation of CTLs occurred in cultures containing AFP. This refractive nature correlated with the presence of nonsuppressible lymphocyte-stimulating alloantigenic systems on the stimulating cell population. These data provide the basis for proposing several possible mechanisms for AFP-induced suppression of T-cell-mediated cytotoxicity, as well as suggesting that the primary target of this suppression is the proliferating helper T cell precommited to respond towards the major histocompatibility complex-associated lymphocyte-activating determinants.

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