Recombinant human interleukin 2 (rH IL-2) in the presence or absence of additional stimuli, was found to be able to induce and support the proliferation of human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs). These proliferative effects were observed at low doses (≤ 10 U/ml) of interleukin 2 (IL-2) only when additional signals (antigen, mitogen) were provided. However, higher doses (≥100 U/ml) of rH IL-2 significantly stimulated the proliferation of PBL even in the absence of exogenous lectin, antigen, or allogeneic serum. The subpopulation of lymphocytes most responsive to these higher doses of rH IL-2 was the large granular lymphocyte (LGL), the morphologic homologue of natural killer activity. After the separation of human PBLs on discontinuous Percoll gradients, cells from fraction 2 (>90% LGLs) responded in a dose-dependent manner to rH IL-2 alone, whereas cells from fraction 6 (>90% T cells) were only slightly responsive to rH IL-2 alone. A portion of the proliferation of cells from fraction 2 was dependent on the expression of the TAC receptor, because the prior removal of TAC-positive cells significantly reduced IL-2-induced lymphocyte proliferation. These results demonstrate that human LGL that have not been exogenously stimulated can proliferate in direct response to IL-2, and suggest that LGL are the major cellular phenotype in the proliferative response that has been observed clinically.
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