We recently have found that the human T cell antigen Leu-2 was specifically released from Leu-2-bearing cells. The preliminary study showed that the released Leu-2 (RLeu-2) from HPB-ALL cells was composed of a single polypeptide chain of 27,000 molecular weight (mol wt), which was smaller than the subunit of the homodimeric molecule found on the cell surface. In the present study, RLeu-2 was further characterized and compared with cellular Leu-2 (CLeu-2). Metabolically radiolabeled Leu-2 was released from HPB-ALL cells and this released Leu-2 molecule had a mol wt of 27,000. Cell surface radioiodinated HPB-ALL cells were found to release radioactive Leu-2 molecules and this antigen also had the same mol wt of 27,000. In both experiments, the CLeu-2 was reconfirmed to be composed of a 33,000-mol wt subunit under reducing conditions. These experiments establish that the 27,000-mol wt single polypeptide chain of Leu-2 released from the cell is derived directly from the homodimeric Leu-2 molecule on the cell surface, presumably by a specific proteolytic cleavage. Two-dimensional gel analysis showed that CLeu-2 exhibited extensive charge heterogeneity with predominantly basic isoelectric points, whereas RLeu-2 was a group of more acidic proteins with less charge heterogeneity. Although CLeu-2 and RLeu-2 showed several different immunochemical characteristics, the homology between these two antigens was confirmed by the following results: CLeu-2 and RLeu-2 were found to share at least three different antigenic determinants, Leu-2a and Leu-2b, and those which were detected by a polyvalent rabbit antiserum. Significant similarities between CLeu-2 and RLeu-2 were demonstrated by peptide mapping analysis of these antigens. Therefore, RLeu-2 appears to be the specific, physiological product of the CLeu-2 protein.
Sensitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) for the detection of human T cell antigens in soluble form have been developed. The assays use mouse monoclonal antibodies and specific anti-Leu sera prepared in rabbits by immunizing with Leu antigens absorbed to monoclonal antibody affinity columns. With these assays, Leu-1, -2, and -3 antigen signals from extracts of as few as 5 X 10(3) cells could be detected. When culture supernatants from various cell lines were tested, Leu-2 antigen, but not Leu-1 or Leu-3, was found to be present. Leu-2 antigen was present only in supernatants from T cell lines that expressed Leu-2 on their cell surface. Leu-2 antigen accumulated progressively in the supernatant of low density culture and its presence did not depend on cell proliferation or on fetal calf serum in the culture medium. The Leu-2 antigen in the supernatant was found to have only one Leu-2a determinant, whereas Leu-2 antigen from cell extracts had at least two determinants. The Leu-2 molecule was effectively purified from supernatant with an anti-Leu-2a affinity column. The purified Leu-2 antigen from supernatant of HPB-ALL cells was a single polypeptide chain of 27,000 mol wt, whereas Leu-2 antigen present on HPB-ALL cell surface was composed of two or more identical polypeptide chains of 33,000 mol wt linked by disulfide bonds. Normal human sera and sera from leukemia patients were also examined for the presence of the Leu-2 antigen. Normal human sera contained low levels of Leu-2 antigen but sera from Leu-2-positive leukemia patients had high levels. These results indicate that Leu-2 antigen is released from human T cells under physiological conditions.