The expression of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II molecules in murine T cells has been controversial. We therefore reexamined the transcription, synthesis and surface expression of MHC class II determinants in rat T cells both in vivo and in vitro. In naive rats, a large proportion of small CD4+8+ and mature CD4+8−/CD4−8+ thymocytes was found to be MHC class II positive. At least some of the MHC class II molecules found on thymocytes were actively synthesized. The synthesis of MHC class II proteins was detected in peripheral T cells activated in vivo during induction of experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE). A proportion of T cells from the inflammatory lesion of EAE exhibited MHC class II on the surface. A panel of helper T cell lines and clones was shown to synthesize MHC class II proteins. In a prototypic clone, a weak constitutive expression of MHC class II was observed. During activation, the rate of endogenous MHC class II synthesis increased and passive absorption of surface MHC class II from other cells occurred. Our data demonstrate the expression of MHC class II molecules in rat T cells in both the thymus and periphery. Since the primary function of MHC class II molecules is the presentation of peptide epitopes to T cells, these results call attention to the possible role of MHC class II molecules in T‐T interactions during T cell maturation and activation.
- Major histocompatibility complex class II
- T cells