Sensitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) for the detection of human T cell antigens in soluble form have been developed. The assays use mouse monoclonal antibodies and specific anti-Leu sera prepared in rabbits by immunizing with Leu antigens absorbed to monoclonal antibody affinity columns. With these assays, Leu-1, -2, and -3 antigen signals from extracts of as few as 5 X 10(3) cells could be detected. When culture supernatants from various cell lines were tested, Leu-2 antigen, but not Leu-1 or Leu-3, was found to be present. Leu-2 antigen was present only in supernatants from T cell lines that expressed Leu-2 on their cell surface. Leu-2 antigen accumulated progressively in the supernatant of low density culture and its presence did not depend on cell proliferation or on fetal calf serum in the culture medium. The Leu-2 antigen in the supernatant was found to have only one Leu-2a determinant, whereas Leu-2 antigen from cell extracts had at least two determinants. The Leu-2 molecule was effectively purified from supernatant with an anti-Leu-2a affinity column. The purified Leu-2 antigen from supernatant of HPB-ALL cells was a single polypeptide chain of 27,000 mol wt, whereas Leu-2 antigen present on HPB-ALL cell surface was composed of two or more identical polypeptide chains of 33,000 mol wt linked by disulfide bonds. Normal human sera and sera from leukemia patients were also examined for the presence of the Leu-2 antigen. Normal human sera contained low levels of Leu-2 antigen but sera from Leu-2-positive leukemia patients had high levels. These results indicate that Leu-2 antigen is released from human T cells under physiological conditions.

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