Expression of the pluripotent molecule TNF in a focused and antigen-restricted fashion might provide an advantage to the host organism. Given the central role of T cells in antigen-specific immunity, we examined whether activated T cells express TNF on their cell surface. FACS analysis of highly purified normal human T cells labeled with an anti-TNF mAb revealed that T cells express cell surface TNF when signaled with the synergistic combination of a calcium ionophore, ionomycin, and a protein kinase C activator, 12-o-tetradecanoyl phorbol acetate. Cell surface radioiodination studies of stimulated T cells demonstrated the presence of 26-kD transmembrane protein, a size predicted by TNF cDNA and different from that of the 17-kD secreted TNF molecule. The induced cell surface expression of TNF could be blocked with cyclosporine and/or methylprednisolone, and Northern analysis for TNF-specific transcripts revealed that this inhibitory effect occurs pretranslationally. Our demonstration for the first time that stimulated normal human T cells display cell surface TNF provides a mechanistic basis for the realization of effects of TNF in an antigen-specific fashion.

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