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Tissue Antigens. 1990 Feb;35(2):82-91.

Differential expression and regulation of the human CD8 alpha and CD8 beta chains.

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Effector Lymphocyte Biology Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.


The CD8 glycoprotein is expressed by thymocytes, mature T cells and natural killer (NK) cells and has been implicated in the recognition of monomorphic determinants on major histocompatibility complex (MHC) Class I antigens, and in signal transduction during the course of T-cell activation. Both human and rodent CD8 antigens are comprised of two distinct polypeptide chains, alpha and beta. The majority of monoclonal antibodies (mAb) reactive with the human CD8 antigen bind the CD8 alpha chain, while a single mAb, T8/2T8-5H7, has been identified which binds to the CD8 alpha/beta heterodimer. While the two chains of CD8 have been presumed to be coordinately expressed in normal T cells, this is not always the case. Northern blot analysis of a panel of T-cell leukemias and normal cells demonstrate that CD8 alpha and CD8 beta are not invariably co-transcribed and phenotypic analysis of fresh and interleukin 2 (IL-2) expanded peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) confirm that the CD8 alpha and CD8 beta chains are differentially expressed at the cell surface. Four distinct subpopulations of CD8+ cells have been identified based on the expression of CD8 alpha/alpha or CD8 alpha/beta complexes: (1) T-cell receptor (TcR) alpha beta+ T cells which are CD8 alpha+/beta+; (2) TcR alpha beta+ T cells which are CD8 alpha+/beta-; (3) TcR gamma delta+ T cells which are CD8 alpha+/beta- and (4) natural killer (NK) cells which are CD8 alpha+/beta-. We also demonstrate the down-regulation of the CD8 alpha/beta heterodimers from the surface of a CD8+ T-cell clone following treatment with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) while CD8 alpha/alpha homodimers remain on the cell surface. This observation demonstrates that a) a CD8+ T-cell clone can express both CD8 alpha/alpha homodimers and CD8 alpha/beta heterodimers and b) these two complexes do not have identical biological properties. Together, these data suggest that CD8 alpha/alpha and CD8 alpha/beta dimers may not subserve identical functions. The differential contribution of these two CD8 complexes should be considered in models of T-cell-mediated cytotoxicity and T-cell activation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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