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To examine the effect of self Ag on activation requirements of TCR-αβ intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (IELs), we utilized the 2C transgenic (Tg) mouse model specific for a peptide self Ag presented by class I MHC, H-2Ld. CD8αα and CD4¯CD8¯ IELs from syngeneic (H-2b, self Ag¯) and self Ag-bearing (H-2b/d, self Ag+) strains were examined for their ability to respond in vitro to P815 (H-2d) cell lines expressing the endogenous antigenic peptide, p2Ca. Proliferation, cytokine production, and CTL activity were elicited in IEL T cells isolated from self Ag¯ H-2b mice when stimulated with P815 cells expressing basal levels of self Ag. These responses were enhanced following the addition of exogenous p2Ca peptide and ectopic expression of the costimulatory molecule, B7-1. By comparison, IEL from self Ag-bearing mice failed to respond to basal levels of self Ag presented by P815 cells even in the presence of B7-1-mediated costimulation. However, the addition of increasing amounts of exogenous p2Ca peptide induced a response from the in vivo “tolerized” T cells. These results suggest that exposure to self Ag in vivo increased the threshold of TCR activation of Ag-exposed self-reactive IELs. The dependence of increased signal 1 to activate self-reactive IELs suggests a defect in TCR signaling that may maintain self tolerance in vivo. These data suggest that conditions that overcome signal 1 IEL defects may initiate autoreactive responses in the intestine. The Journal of Immunology, 1998, 160: 5341–5346.
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