Murine T cell reactivity with products of the minor lymphocyte stimulatory (Mls) locus correlates with the expression of particular variable (V) domains of the T cell receptor (TCR) beta chain. It was recently demonstrated that Mls antigens are encoded by an open reading frame (ORF) in the 3' long terminal repeat of either endogenous or exogenous mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV). Immature thymocytes expressing reactive TCR-V beta domains are clonally deleted upon exposure to endogenous Mtv's. Mature T cells proliferate vigorously in response to Mls-1a (Mtv-7) in vivo, but induction of specific anergy and deletion after exposure to Mtv-7-expressing cells in the periphery has also been described. We show here that B cells and CD8+ (but not CD4+) T cells from Mtv-7+ mice efficiently induce peripheral deletion of reactive T cells upon transfer to Mtv-7- recipients, whereas only B cells stimulate specific T cell proliferation in vivo. In contrast to endogenous Mtv-7, transfer of B, CD4+, or CD8+ lymphocyte subsets from mice maternally infected with MMTV(SW), an infectious homologue of Mtv-7, results in specific T cell deletion in the absence of a detectable proliferative response. Finally, we show by secondary transfers of infected cells that exogenous MMTV(SW) is transmitted multidirectionally between lymphocyte subsets and ultimately to the mammary gland. Collectively our data demonstrate heterogeneity in the expression and/or presentation of endogenous and exogenous MMTV ORF by lymphocyte subsets and emphasize the low threshold required for induction of peripheral T cell deletion by these gene products.

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