Classes of polyclonal activators

There are a variety of polyclonal activators that operate by different mechanisms on cells of the immune system (Table 1). Many have varying abilities to stimulate a sizable fraction of lymphocytes, regardless of the lymphocyte antigen specificity. Polyclonal activators can both costimulate and induce costimulatory mechanisms, thus indicating the functional connection between polyclonal activators and costimulators. The physiology of costimulatory molecules to a large degree limits the function of these molecules to lymphocytes undergoing antigen-specific stimulation. This is also the case for a number of cytokines which may induce polyclonal activation under experimental conditions, but primarily function in vivo to augment antigen-specific responses. One exception to this generality is septic and toxic shock in which massive and damaging production of immune products causes severe illnesses. Lastly, activation is often followed by inactivation and lymphocyte death. The precise mechanism for inactivation and death, which allows lymphocytes to be removed when they are no longer needed, depends on the nature and mechanism of the initial activating stimulus.

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