In order to directly assess the distribution of cytolytic T lymphocytes (CTL) and their precursors (CTL-P) in the two major subsets of human T cells, we have used limiting dilution microculture systems to determine their frequencies. The two subsets were defined according to their reactivity (or lack thereof) with B9.4 monoclonal antibody (the specificity of which is similar, if not identical, to that of Leu 2b monoclonal antibody). Both B9+ and B9- cells obtained by sorting peripheral blood resting T cells using the fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) were assayed for total CTL-P frequencies in a microculture system that allows clonal growth of every T cell. As assessed by a lectin-dependent assay, approximately 30% of peripheral blood T cells were CTP-P. In the B9+ subset (which represents 20-30% of all T cells), the CTL-P frequency was close to 100%, whereas the B9- subset had a 25-fold lower CTL-P frequency. It is thus evident that 90% and 10% of the total CTL-P in peripheral blood are confined to the B9+ or B9- T cell subsets, respectively. Analysis of the subset distribution of CTL-P directed against a given set of alloantigens confirmed these findings. CTL-P frequencies were also determined in B9+ and B9- subsets derived from T cells that had been activated in allogenic mixed leucocyte cultures (MLC). Approximately 10% of MLC T cells were CTL-P. This frequency was increased 3.5-fold in the B9+ subset, whereas the B9- subset contained only a small, although detectable number of CTL-P. Moreover, the great majority of the (operationally defined) CTL-P in MLC T cell population were found to be directed against the stimulating alloantigens, thus indicating a dramatic increase in specific CTL-P frequencies following in vitro stimulation in bulk cultures.

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