The ligand for CD40 has been recently identified as a 39-kd protein, gp39, expressed on the surface of activated CD4+ T helper cells (Th). In vitro, soluble CD40 and anti-gp39 have been shown to block the ability of Th to activate B cells, suggesting that gp39-CD40 interactions are important to T cell-dependent B cell activation. Here it is shown that in vivo administration of anti-gp39 dramatically reduced both primary and secondary humoral immune responses to erythrocytes and soluble protein antigens without altering responses to the T-independent type II antigen, trinitrophenyl-Ficoll. Treatment of mice for 4 d with anti-gp39 inhibited the anti-sheep red blood cell (SRBC) response for at least 3 wk and inhibited the expression of all immunoglobulin isotypes in secondary responses to the protein antigen, keyhole limpet hemocyanin. To examine the direct effect of anti-gp39 on Th function, SRBC-immune Th cells from anti-gp39-treated mice were adoptively transferred and shown to be fully capable of providing help. These results suggest that anti-gp39 treatment does not cause Th deletion or anergy. Anti-gp39 may mediate its profound immunosuppressive effects on humoral immunity by blocking gp39-CD40 interactions. Moreover, these studies establish gp39-CD40 as an important receptor-ligand pair for the targeting of therapeutic antibodies to control thymus-dependent humoral responses.

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