Suppressor T Lymphocytes

David R Webb, Cadus Pharmaceutical Corporation, Tarrytown, New York, USA Bruce H Devens, Targeted Genetics Corporation, Seattle, Washington, USA

From almost the beginning of immunology as a research discipline, there has been the realization that the immune system must have some way of controlling or preventing antiself (autoimmune) responses. Related to this issue is the question of how the immune response is turned off once a response to antigenic challenge is initiated. In the early 1970s, Gershon, among others, made a remarkable suggestion that there existed cells in the immune system whose purpose was to inhibit the capacity to mount an immune response. These cells he termed 'suppressor cells'. He hypothesized that such cells could explain many of the phenomena that immunologists had observed earlier, such as infectious tolerance, i.e. the ability of T cells tolerant to antigen A to transfer tolerance to antigen A from one host to another without affecting the response to antigen B. For the past 20 years a large number of researchers have been attempting to unravel the complexities of immune regulation and to try to determine whether the ingenious but nonetheless controversial proposal of Gershon, namely the existence of a specific subset of T suppressor (Ts) cells, is valid.

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