Mature T cells segregate phenotypically into one of two classes: those that express the surface glycoprotein CD4, and those that express the glycoprotein CDS. The CD4 molecule is expressed primarily on helper T cells whereas CD8 is found on cytotoxic and suppressor cells1–3. A more stringent association exists, however, between these T-cell subsets and the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) gene products recognized by their T-cell receptors (TCRs)2–4. CD8+ lymphocytes interact with targets expressing class I MHC gene products, whereas CD4+ cells interact with class II MHC-bearing targets. To explain this association, it has been proposed that these 'accessory' molecules bind to monomorphic regions of the MHC proteins on the target cell, CD4 to class II and CD8 to class I products4–9. This binding could hold the T cell and its target together, thus improving the probability of the formation of the trimolecular antigen: MHC: TCR complex. Because the TCR on CD4+ cells binds antigen in association with class II MHC, it has been difficult to design experiments to detect the association of CD4 with a class II molecule. To address this issue, we devised a xenogeneic system in which human CD4 complementary DNA was transfected into the murine CD4−, CD8− T-cell hybridoma 3DT-52.5.8, the TCR of which recognizes the murine class I molecule H–2Dd. The murine H–2Dd-bearing target cell line, P815, was cotransfected with human class II HLA-DR α, β and invariant chain cDNAs. Co-culture of the parental T-cell and P815 lines, or of one parental and one transfected line resulted in a low baseline response. In contrast, a substantial increase in response was observed when CD4+ 3DT-52.5.8 cells were co-cultured with HLA-DR+ P815 cells. This result strongly indicates that CD4:HLA-DR binding occurs in this system and that this interaction augments T-cell activation.
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