Ligation of CD28 on CD4 Th1 clones and freshly isolated mixtures of naive and memory CD4 T cells triggered their T cell receptors (TCR) is sufficient to induce the costimulatory signals necessary for interleukin 2 (IL-2) production by these cells. CTLA-4-reactive ligands expressed on antigen-presenting cells (APC) are critical in providing costimulatory signals to these T cell populations. We demonstrate that these activation characteristics apply equally to purified naive CD4 T cells. Because B cell blasts express CTLA-4-reactive ligands and high levels of adhesion and major histocompatibility complex class II molecules, they would be expected to engage both the TCR and CD28 and consequently stimulate IL-2 production by naive CD4 T cells. Using purified populations of cells in limiting dilution cultures, we have carried out a quantitative analysis of the interaction between naive CD4 T cells and either activated B or dendritic cells. We demonstrate that B cell blasts stimulate a high frequency of naive CD4 T cells. Slight differences in TCR signaling efficiency between the two APC types were observed. Even at optimal peptide concentrations, however, the amount of IL-2 made by individual T cells was fourfold lower in response to B cell blasts than to dendritic cells. This relative deficiency of activated B cells was due to their inability to optimally costimulate naive CD4 T cells.

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