Interleukin 2 (IL-2) is a T cell-derived lymphokine that serves as a cofactor for the in vitro response of T lymphocytes to antigen and plays an important role in regulating the growth and/or differentiation of these cells (1, 2). It has been postulated (2, 3) that IL-2 is produced by a discrete regulatory T cell subset, with its effects being exerted on a second, functionally distinct subpopulation of T cells. Cytotoxic T cells have been included in the IL-2-responsive subset (3). Several models of immune regulation have further assumed that the T lymphocyte pool is divided into a complex array of genetically preprogrammed T cell subtypes, each performing a specific regulatory or effector function (4, 5). However, recent results from several laboratories (6-8) have failed to support such a strict functional subdivision of the T cell pool.
The availability of highly purified mouse IL-2 (1) prompted us to reevaluate the distinction, if any, between IL-2-producing and IL-2- responsive T cells. For this purpose, we resorted to a cell-cloning procedure using activated T lymphocytes that were maintained only for short periods in culture. T cell clones were tested for cytotoxic activity, responsiveness to IL-2, and for the capacity to produce IL-2 after appropriate stimulation. We found no evidence for the existence of a major functional subdivision involving these parameters among alloantigen-activated T cells: the majority of clones analyzed could perform all three functions.