We have described a culture and assay system for the sensitization of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells with a T cell-dependent antigen, sheep erythrocytes, in the absence of nonspecific stimulatory agents and with the subsequent generation of macroscopic hemolytic plaques. We have shown that the antibody produced by the plaque-forming cells generated in this culture system is specific for the sensitizing antigen, and that the plaques created are not false plaques because their formation is inhibited by cycloheximide. The success of this system can be attributed to several critical factors including large numbers of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (5 x 10(6) culture), a prolonged period of incubation (10-11 d), continuous rocking during the entire period of incubation, culturing in large (35-mm) flat-bottomed culture dishes in the presence of human plasma, and the appropriate antigen concentration (5 x 10(6) sheep erythrocytes/culture). Furthermore, the generation of macroscopic hemolytic plaques requires plaquing sensitized peripheral blood mononuclear cells in target cell monolayers fixed in an agarose matrix with an incubation period of 2-3 h. We have further shown that the antigen-specific response measured by this system is dependent on adherent cells and T lymphocytes. At least one population of the helper T cells is sensitive to 2,000 rad irradiation. This system is simple, sensitive, and should serve as an effective tool for the analysis of cellular interactions involved in the generation of human antigen-specific plaque-forming cells, the genetic control the human immune response, and the pathophysiology of altered immunoregulation in disease.

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