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Eur J Immunol. 1998 Sep;28(9):2902-12.

Anergic T cells actively suppress T cell responses via the antigen-presenting cell.

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Institute of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, Department of Immunology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


We here show that anergic T cells are active mediators of T cell suppression. In co-culture experiments, we found that anergic T cells, derived from established rat T cell clones and rendered anergic via T cell presentation of the specific antigen (Ag), were active inhibitors of T cell responses. Anergic T cells inhibited not only the responses of T cells with the same Ag specificity as the anergic T cells, but were also capable of efficiently inhibiting polyclonal T cell responses directed to other epitopes. This suppression required close cell-cell contact between antigen-presenting cells (APC), anergic T cells and responder T cells, and only occurred when the epitope recognized by the anergic T cell was present. The suppression was not caused by passive competition for ligands on the APC surface, IL-2 consumption, or cytolysis, and was not mediated by soluble factors derived from anergic T cells that were stimulated with their specific Ag. When responder T cells were added 24 h after co-culturing anergic cells in the presence of Ag and APC, T cell responses were still suppressed, indicating that the suppressive effect was persistently present. However, anergic T cells were not able to suppress responder T cells that had already received a full activation signal. We propose that suppression by anergic T cells is mediated via the APC, either through modulation of the T cell-activating capacity of the APC (APC/T cell interaction), or by inhibition of T cells recognizing their ligand in close proximity on the same APC (T/T cell interaction).

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