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Blood. 1997 Jun 1;89(11):4128-35.

Activation of human T cells by major histocompatability complex class II expressing neutrophils: proliferation in the presence of superantigen, but not tetanus toxoid.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH, USA.


The primary function of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) in the immune response appears to be acute phagocytic clearance of foreign pathogens and release of inflammatory mediators. Consistent with their assumed lack of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II expression, PMN have not been considered to play a role in antigen presentation and T-cell activation. However, recent reports have shown that human PMN can express MHC class II molecules both in vitro and in vivo after stimulation with either granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) or interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). Thus, under appropriate conditions, PMN could play a significant role in immune regulation, including T-cell activation. In this report, we demonstrate that human class II-expressing PMN can serve as accessory cells in superantigen (SAg)-mediated T-cell activation. This accessory activity for SAg presentation was present only after induction of MHC class II expression, and was especially pronounced following culture of PMN with GM-CSF plus IFN-gamma, which acted synergistically to induce MHC class II molecules on PMN. Moreover, the level of MHC class II expression and the magnitude of SAg-induced T-cell responses were found to be highly correlated and distinctly donor dependent, with PMN from some donors repeatedly showing fivefold higher responses than PMN from other donors. On the other hand, culture of PMN with GM-CSF plus IFN-gamma under conditions that resulted in optimal MHC class II expression did not enable them to function as antigen-presenting cells for either intact tetanus toxoid (TT) or for a TT peptide. These results delineate a new pathway for T-cell activation by SAg that may play an important role in the severity of SAg-induced inflammatory responses. They also identify a donor-specific polymorphism for induction of PMN MHC class II expression which may be of significance for therapies involving GM-CSF and IFN-gamma.

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