The ability of B cells or macrophages and dendritic cells (DC) to elicit class II-restricted T cell responses in vivo was compared using a mouse chimera model. Severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice (H-2d), reconstituted either with T or T+B lymphocytes from (H-2d x H-2b) donors, were immunized subcutaneously with protein antigen (Ag) to induce a class II-restricted T cell response. The frequency and major histocompatibility complex restriction of the resulting Ag-specific T cells were analyzed to establish whether B cells were necessary for the induction of class II-restricted T cell responses, and to determine the cell type on which priming had occurred. The results indicated that: (a) B cells are not necessary for the induction of a class II-restricted T cell response in vivo, as the frequencies of interleukin 2 (IL-2)- or IL-3-secreting T cells induced in the presence or absence of B cells were comparable. (b) Activation of naive T cells requires presentation of Ag on DC; Ag presented only on B cells is not sufficient to elicit a response. No H-2b-restricted, IL-3-secreting cells could in fact be detected in SCID mice reconstituted with naive (H-2d x H-2b) T cells and nonimmune or antigen-primed (H-2d x H-2b) B cells. (c) Previously primed T cells are able to be stimulated by Ag presented by both B cells and DC. H-2b-restricted, IL-3-secreting cells could in fact be readily demonstrated in SCID mice reconstituted with antigen-primed (H-2d x H-2b) T and B cells. Irrespective of whether the T cells were naive or previously activated, B cells were able to respond with an Ag-specific immunoglobulin G response, indicating that B cells were functional and able to present Ag in order to receive specific T cell help. Therefore, it appears that B cells are not necessary and do not participate in the initial priming of T cells; however, Ag presented by B cells can reactivate previously primed T cells. Taken together, these data indicate that during the course of an immune response Ag is first presented to naive T cells via DC, and only subsequently primed T cells can be stimulated by Ag presented by B cells.

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