Regulatory (helper and suppressor) T lymphocytes become activated only when foreign antigen is presented to them on the surface of antigen-presenting cells (APC), together with class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules (heterodimers of polypeptides of 28,000 and 35,000 relative molecular mass) 1-4. Once activated by a certain foreign antigen-MHC combination, T cells react to the same antigen only in combination with the same MHC molecule, a phenomenon termed MHC restriction of T-cell recognition (reviewed in refs 1, 5). Studies of the mechanisms involved in antigen presentation and MHC restriction have been hampered mainly by the virtual impossibility of inducing T-cell responses in the absence of APC. We describe here the production of synthetic lipid vesicles with inserted class II MHC molecules and a protein antigen coupled covalently to the lipid. These liposomes are shown to stimulate cloned helper T cells and T-cell hybridomas in an antigen-specific, MHC-restricted manner in the absence of APC. Thus, the recognition of foreign antigen together with class II MHC molecules seems to be the only signal required for the activation of antigen-primed regulatory T cells. Furthermore, 'processing' of antigen by APC is not essential for its recognition by T cells.
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