The specificity of binding of stimulator-derived H-2 antigens by mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC)-activated T blasts was investigated under conditions of antigen excess. We have shown that the detectable proportion of alloantigen-binding blasts from primary MLC is a function of antigen concentration, and can represent up to more than 90 percent of total blasts, when the antigen is presented in the appropriate form (on mitomycin-treated viable stimulator cells, or membrane vesicles prepared from lipopolysaccharide blasts), and at nonlimiting concentration. Thus stimulator alloantigen-binding directly parallels the proliferative response and is not restricted to a subpopulation of T blasts. However, the marked dependence of the binding on antigen concentration indicates that cells with a wide range of receptor affinities for the stimulating determinants are involved. In view of this possibility, the specificity of binding by these cells was studied. We have demonstrated that stimulator K, I, and D region products are bound by nonoverlapping subpopulations of blasts, the sum of which may represent 93 percent of total blasts. Thus, specific distinction by these cells between different H-2 region products is not affected by the putative heterogeneity in terms of receptor affinities. However, specificity with respect to unrelated H-2 haplotypes is strictly dependent on antigen concentration. A preferential binding of stimulator membrane vesicles occurs at limiting concentrations; whereas the majority of blasts bind stimulator and third- party vesicles equally well at high vesicle concentrations. The binding of both vesicle types is specific in that it can be inhibited with the relevant anti-H-2 sera. Furthermore, stimulator and third-party vesicles seem to compete for binding sites on the same cells, as shown by cold antigen inhibition.
From these results, we propose that there is an imperfect distinction between stimulator and third-party H-2 antigens by the majority of primary MLC blasts. In contrast, highly selected long-term MLC blasts do not bind third-party H-2 antigens at any concentration, and seem to have high affinity for the stimulating antigens.
We conclude that large numbers of clones with low-affinity (cross- reactive) receptors are generated in primary MLC, most of which become eliminated during long-term selection. This implies that the frequency of cells strictly specific for nonshared stimulating determinants must be minute.