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J Immunol. 2001 Dec 1;167(11):6140-9.

Differential effects of physiologically relevant hypoxic conditions on T lymphocyte development and effector functions.

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  • 1Laboratory of Immunology, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-1892, USA.


Direct measurements revealed low oxygen tensions (0.5-4.5% oxygen) in murine lymphoid organs in vivo. To test whether adaptation to changes in oxygen tension may have an effect on lymphocyte functions, T cell differentiation and functions at varying oxygen tensions were studied. These studies show: 1) differentiated CTL deliver Fas ligand- and perforin-dependent lethal hit equally well at all redox conditions; 2) CTL development is delayed at 2.5% oxygen as compared with 20% oxygen. Remarkably, development of CTL at 2.5% oxygen is more sustained and the CTL much more lytic; and 3) hypoxic exposure and TCR-mediated activation are additive in enhancing levels of hypoxia response element-containing gene products in lymphocyte supernatants. In contrast, hypoxia inhibited the accumulation of nonhypoxia response element-containing gene products (e.g., IL-2 and IFN-gamma) in the same cultures. This suggests that T cell activation in hypoxic conditions in vivo may lead to different patterns of lymphokine secretion and accumulation of cytokines (e.g., vascular endothelial growth factor) affecting endothelial cells and vascular permeabilization. Thus, although higher numbers of cells survive and are activated during 20% oxygen incubation in vitro, the CTL which develop at 2.5% oxygen are more lytic with higher levels of activation markers. It is concluded that the ambient 20% oxygen tension (plus 2-ME) is remarkably well suited for immunologic specificity and cytotoxicity studies, but oxygen dependence should be taken into account during the design and interpretation of results of in vitro T cell development assays and gene expression studies in vivo.

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