Superantigens have been used to study peripheral tolerance in CD4+ T cells. The superantigen SEB induces T cell anergy by promoting the differentiation of SEB-activated virgin T cells into anergic memory T cells. Memory T cells from SEB or antigen-primed mice do not proliferate when they are cultured with SEB. The present studies were performed to determine whether memory T cells fail to interact with SEB antigen-presenting cells or whether SEB promotes incomplete or negative signals in memory T cells. When murine virgin and memory T cells were separated on the basis of CD45RB expression and cultured with SEB-pulsed B cells, SEB induced the expression of CD25, which then mediated proliferation when IL-2 was added to the cultures. In addition, SEB promoted the expression of the CD40L, which is required for T helper cell function. Finally, PMA induced a costimulatory signal leading to the proliferation of these cells. Surprisingly, the agents, i.e., IL-2 and PMA, which induced TM cell proliferation in conjunction with SEB failed to induce lymphokine secretion. However, in the presence of IL-4 plus IL-5, the T memory cells induced the SEB-pulsed B cells to secrete IgM and IgG. These results suggest that memory T cells are not simply unresponsive to SEB but are actively anergized.
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