We describe the biochemical properties and cell surface distributions of three human T cell antigens (Leu-1, Leu-2a, and Leu-2b) which we postulate to be the homologues of the Lyt-1, Lyt-2, and Lyt-3 antigens that distinguish functional T cell subsets in the mouse. Leu-l, like Lyt-1, is on all thymocytes and peripheral T cells and is present in greater amounts on the helper/inducer subset than on the cytotoxic/suppressor subset. Both antigens increase in parallel fashion during T cell maturation in the thymus and each antigen is carried on a single 67,000-molecular weight (relative) (M(r)) polypeptide chain. Surprisingly, Leu-1 and Lyt-1 each are also expressed in readily detectable amounts on some B celI Ieukemias but not detectably so on normal B cells.
Leu-2a and Leu-2b are antigens found only on suppressor/cytotoxic cells in the human and are very similar to the murine Lyt-2 and Lyt-3 antigens. In both species, the two antigens are on the same disulfide- linked multimeric molecules. Disulfide-bond reduction in both species yields subunits of similar size and charge. Lyt-3 and Leu-2b are extremely sensitive to trypsin digestion on viable cells whereas Lyt-2 and Leu-2a are much less so.
A different membrane antigen, Leu-3, is an exclusive marker of the helper/inducer subset in man. No mouse homologue for this 55,000-M(r) protein is known.
The maintenance of the homologous molecules on functionally distinct T cell subpopulations in two evolutionarily distant species suggests that the Lyt and Leu antigens perform essential functions for the cells on which they are found.