Two substrains of New Zealand Black (NZB) mice have been compared with respect to expression of a maternally transmitted cell surface antigen, Mta, defined by cloned cytolytic T cells, and for restriction enzyme polymorphisms of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). These independent assays of maternal cytoplasmic inheritance provide strong evidence for genetic contamination of the NZB/BlPt substrain (NZB/Bl mice from Michael Potter's separate colony at the National Institutes of Health), in which the typical NZB immunologic abnormalities are at least partially ameliorated. The decisive data are the restriction enzyme maps of mtDNA for NZB/BlPt, which were identical with those of the common "old inbred" strains and quite different from those of NZB/BlN (NZB/Bl mice from the breeding facility at the National Institutes of Health). It is probable that the contamination of the NZB/BlPt substrain is related to phenotypic changes in their autoimmune state. More interestingly, the data are consistent with, although they do not prove, involvement of the mitochondrial genome in expression of a cell surface molecule.

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