We show here a unique enrichment of autoreactive T cells in the CD4+ mouse thymic subset, Thy0. A single- and 10-cell AMLR (autologous mixed leukocyte reaction) assay demonstrates that more than 30% (one cell per well) and almost all (10 cells per well) Thy0 cultures from normal mice exhibit reactivity specific to autologous cells, resulting in induction of interleukin 3 secretion. In contrast, no other mature thymic or splenic CD4+ T cell subsets showed such a high frequency. The majority of this AMLR reactivity in the Thy0 subset is accounted for by reactivity with self-major histocompatibility complex class II. Furthermore, antigenic selection in generating Thy0 subset is suggested by studies with T cell hybrids from a T cell receptor (TCR) V beta transgenic mouse line, 2B4 beta EH. TCR V-gene analysis of T cell hybrids revealed that those from Thy0, half of which responded to self-class II, consisted predominantly of cells that expressed endogenous TCR V beta s alone (without the transgene), unlike hybrids generated from peripheral naive T cells. Thus, we suggest that the presence of Thy0 results from selective stimulation of cells expressing TCR with sufficient affinity for autoantigens in the thymic CD4+ T cell repertoire.

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