Mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) encodes a superantigen (Sag) that is expressed at the surface of antigen-presenting cells in conjunction with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) type II molecules. The Sag-MHC complex is recognized by entire subsets of T cells, leading to cytokine release and amplification of infected B and T cells that carry milk-borne MMTV to the mammary gland. Expression of Sag proteins from endogenous MMTV proviruses carried in the mouse germ line usually results in the deletion of self- reactive T cells during negative selection in the thymus and the elimination of T cells required for infection by specific milk-borne MMTVs. However, other endogenous MMTVs are unable to eliminate Sag-reactive T cells in newborn mice and cause partial loss of reactive T cells in adults. To investigate the kinetics of Sag-reactive T-cell deletion, backcross mice that contain single or multiple MMTVs were screened by a novel PCR assay designed to distinguish among highly related MMTV strains. Mice that contained Mtv-17 alone showed slow kinetics of reactive T-cell loss that involved the CD4+, but not the CD8+, subset. Deletion of CD4+ or CD8+ T cells reactive with Mtv-17 Sag was not detected in thymocytes. Slow kinetics of peripheral T- cell deletion by Mtv-17 Sag also was accompanied by failure to detect Mtv-17 sag-specific mRNA in the thymus, despite detectable expression in other tissues, such as spleen. Together, these data suggest that Mtv-17 Sag causes peripheral, rather than intrathymic, deletion of T cells. Interestingly, the Mtv-8 provirus caused partial deletion of CD4+Vβ12+ cells in the thymus, but other T-cell subsets appeared to be deleted only in the periphery. Our data have important implications for the level of antigen expression required for elimination of self-reactive T cells. Moreover, these experiments suggest that mice expressing endogenous MMTVs that lead to slow kinetics of T-cell deletion will be susceptible to infection by milk-borne MMTVs with the same Sag specificity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Insect Science