Naive T cells require interleukin 4 (IL-4) to develop into IL-4-producing T cells and IL-4 blocks development of such cells into interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) producers. Prior studies in accessory cell-independent priming systems using antireceptor antibodies as agonists have demonstrated that IL-2 is also necessary for the development of IL-4-producing cells under these culture conditions. Here we have examined the role of IL-2 and the CD28 costimulation pathway in priming for IL-4 and IFN-gamma production using a more physiologic model. This involved antigen presentation by accessory cells to naive CD4+ T cells from transgenic mice whose cells express a T cell receptor (TCR) specific for a cytochrome c peptide in association with I-Ek. With splenic antigen-presenting cells (APCs), inhibition of CD28 costimulation by the fusion protein CTLA4-immunoglobulin (Ig) blocked effective priming. Similarly, transfected fibroblasts expressing both MHC class II and the CD28 ligand B7 could prime for IL-4 production and such priming also was blocked by CTLA4-Ig. However, APCs deficient in CD28 ligands also could prime TCR transgenic T cells to become IL-4 producers if an exogenous source of IL-2, as well as IL-4, was provided, and the inhibition of priming seen with splenic or transfected fibroblast APCs in the presence of CTLA4-Ig could be reversed by addition of IL-2. Likewise, priming for IFN-gamma production could be blocked by CTLA4-Ig and reversed by IL-2. Thus, we conclude that IL-2 plays a critical role in priming naive CD4+ T cells to become IL-4 or IFN-gamma producers. Engagement of the CD28 pathway, although normally important in such priming, is unnecessary in the presence of exogenous IL-2.

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