V gamma 9/V delta 2 cells represent a fraction of human gamma/delta cells that is expanded after birth in the periphery, carries markers of activated cells, and becomes a major population in peripheral blood. We found that these cells do not comprise a single population but actually represent two nested sets, the smaller of which, specific for Mycobacterium tuberculosis-pulsed antigen-presenting cells (APC), is contained in a larger set specific for an antigen found on the Molt-4 lymphoma. The larger set, representing 40-80% of all blood gamma/delta cells, is comprised of cells bearing the V gamma 9/C gamma 1 chain. Cells in the smaller, included set have an additional requirement for V delta 2 (and probably for certain permissive junctional regions, since a very small percentage of V gamma 9/V delta 2 cells do not react against mycobacteria-pulsed APC). Optimal stimulation by mycobacteria is dependent on the presence of APC, and is not restricted by classical major histocompatibility complex molecules. Some of the V gamma 9/V delta 2 mycobacteria-specific clones are also stimulated by APC pulsed with different bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli, indicating that the population includes several different patterns of reactivity. These data establish a relationship in humans between specificity and V gamma/V delta gene usage, and offer an explanation for the peripheral expansion of these gamma/delta cells.

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