The interleukin 2 receptor (IL-2R) is known to be comprised of at least three genetically distinct subunits termed alpha, beta, and gamma. These chains can be expressed individually or in various combinations resulting in distinct receptors with different affinities for IL-2. In contrast to alpha and beta, the cell surface expression of the gamma chain protein previously has not been well-characterized. To examine cell surface expression of IL-2R gamma on hematopoietic cells, we developed two new monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) specific for this protein. Both 1A11 (immunoglobulin [IgG1]) and 3G11 (IgM) specifically reacted with murine cells transfected with IL-2R gamma cDNA, and immunoprecipitation studies indicated that both antibodies precipitated a protein of approximately 62-65 kD. Scatchard analysis of IL-2 binding to murine cells transfected with cDNA-encoding combinations of IL-2R components demonstrated that neither beta nor gamma chain bind IL-2 with measurable affinity, but coexpression of both beta and gamma is sufficient to form an intermediate affinity receptor. In the absence of gamma chain, beta chain interacts with alpha chain to form a "pseudo-high" affinity receptor. In contrast, gamma chain does not appear capable of interacting with alpha in the absence of beta chain. Thus, gamma chain appears to interact only with beta, but beta chain is capable of interacting with both alpha and gamma. Using the newly developed mAbs to examine cell surface expression by immunofluorescence, resting T cells were found to express low levels of gamma chain without detectable alpha or beta. Early after mitogen stimulation, T cells expressed higher levels of alpha, beta, and gamma. However, at later time points, T cells expressed alpha and gamma in marked excess over beta. Thus, formation of high affinity IL-2R on activated T cells was primarily limited by beta chain expression. In contrast, resting natural killer (NK) cells constitutively expressed IL-2R beta without detectable alpha or gamma. After activation with either IL-2 or IL-12, expression of both alpha and gamma transiently increased and then returned to very low levels. Expression of functional IL-2R on resting and activated NK cells, therefore, appeared to be primarily limited by the expression of gamma chain. IL-2 binding studies with resting NK cells confirmed the results of immunofluorescence studies indicating the presence of very low numbers of intermediate affinity (beta gamma) receptors for IL-2 on these cells.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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