The cell lineage of the lymphokine-activated killer (LAK) cells has been reinvestigated. Both T and non-T cells, isolated on the basis of rosette formation with sheep erythrocytes (E), generated LAK activity after 3-4 days of culture in recombinant interleukin 2 (rIL 2) in 8 different individuals tested. By applying a microculture technique which allows clonal expansion of virtually all E rosetting T cells, we further analyzed the frequency of clonogenic LAK precursors within T cell populations. Approximately 1 of 25 T cells was found to be a LAK precursor. Moreover, microcultures with LAK activity lysed both the natural killer-sensitive K562 cell line and the P815 target cells in the presence of phytohemagglutinin (PHA). Since cytolytic T lymphocytes capable of lysing P815 cells in the PHA-dependent assay were approximately 1/3, it is evident that only a minor subset of cytolytic T lymphocyte precursors can acquire LAK activity even in the presence of large amounts of IL 2. Several LAK clones obtained by limiting dilution were further expanded and analyzed for their phenotypic and functional properties. Twelve out of 14 clones analyzed expressed the T3+ T11+ phenotype whereas 2 were T3- T11+. All had maintained their original cytolytic pattern; moreover, the large majority of the T3+ clones produced IL 2 and interferon-γ following PHA stimulation.
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