T cells recognize peptides that are bound to MHC molecules on the surface of different types of antigen-presenting cells (APC). Antigen presentation most often is studied using T cells that have undergone priming in situ, or cell lines that have been chronically stimulated in vitro. The use of primed cells provides sufficient numbers of antigen-reactive lymphocytes for experimental study. A more complete understanding of immunogenicity, however, requires that one develop systems for studying the onset of a T cell response from unprimed lymphocytes, especially in situ. Here it is shown that mouse T cells can be reliably primed in situ using dendritic cells as APC. The dendritic cells were isolated from spleen, pulsed with protein antigens, and then administered to naive mice. Antigen-responsive T cells developed in the draining lymphoid tissue, and these T cells only recognized protein when presented on cells bearing the same MHC products as the original priming dendritic cells. In contrast, little or no priming was seen if antigen-pulsed spleen cells or peritoneal cells were injected. Since very small amounts of the foreign protein were visualized within endocytic vacuoles of antigen-pulsed dendritic cells, it is suggested that dendritic cells have a small but relevant vacuolar system for presenting antigens over a several day period in situ.

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