Unfractionated human T cells exposed to 10-50 rad of X irradiation incorporated less [3H]thymidine than nonirradiated T cells when subsequently cultured with PHA or Con A. The cytotoxic/suppressor T-cell subset, isolated as either OKT8(+) or OKT4(-) cells, demonstrated significantly enhanced [3H]thymidine incorporation in PHA- or Con A-stimulated cultures after exposure to 10-50 rad, compared to unirradiated cells, while the proliferation of the OKT4(+) helper/inducer subset was inhibited by low dose irradiation. It has been previously reported that ~30% of the cytotoxic/suppressor subset also stains with OKM1. When the cytotoxic/suppressor subset was further subdivided into OKT4(-), OKM1(+), and OKT4(-), OKM1(-) cells, proliferation of the OKT4(-), OKM1(+) population was inhibited by exposure to 25 rad while proliferation of the OKT4(-), OKM1(-) population was stimulated. The increase in proliferation of the cytotoxic/suppressor T-cell subset after low dose irradiation is paralleled by an increase in suppressor activity of these cells. T cells exposed to 25 rad and then cultured with Con A for 48 hr caused greater inhibition of IgG production when added to fresh autologous lymphocytes stimulated by pokeweed mitogen than did unirradiated cells. Thus, low dose irradiation enhances both the proliferation and function of the human suppressor T-cell subset.
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