We used well-gassed hanging drop (20 microliters) cultures with high concentrations of purified T cells from normal BALB/c mice to examine whether dendritic cells (DC) can induce primary antiviral proliferative T cell responses and generate virus-specific CTL. We found that DC exposed to infectious influenza virus in vitro or in vivo in small numbers (0.1-1%) resulted in strong proliferation of responder T cells within 3 d, and this was strongly inhibited by antibodies to class II MHC molecules. In addition, in 5-d cultures, the influenza-treated DC generated CTL specifically able to lyse influenza-infected syngeneic target cells bearing MHC class I antigens. The most potent nucleoprotein (NP) epitope recognized by BALB/c CTL is peptide 147-158 (Arg156-) and influenza-infected DC in vitro stimulated CTL recognizing this peptide, thus mimicking the response in mice primed by intranasal influenza infection. We also induced T cell proliferation and virus-specific CTL in cultures of normal T cells by stimulating with DC pulsed with the natural NP sequence 147-158 or the potent peptide 147-158 (Arg156-). Small numbers of peritoneal exudate cells, after activation with Con A to produce class II MHC expression and after removal of DC with a specific mAb (33DI), did not lead to primary CTL generation but initiated secondary stimulation in vitro. Our results using the hanging drop culture method and DC as APC have implications for studying the T cell repertoire for viral components in humans without the necessity of previous immunization.

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