Neonatal tolerance revisited again: specific CTL priming in mouse neonates exposed to small numbers of semi- or fully allogeneic spleen cells



Neonatal and adult mice mount distinct responses to allogeneic cells. Injection of neonates with fully allogeneic cells results in lethal graft-vs.-host disease (GVHD), whereas injection of semi-allogeneic (F1) cells leads to lifelong tolerance to the alloantigens, often marked by specific CTL non-responsiveness. In contrast, adults injected with the same number of either cell type become primed and develop vigorous anti-donor CTL activity. One possibility for this differential responsiveness may be developmental immaturity in the CTL arm of the immune system. Recent studies have shown that neonates are capable of mounting mature CTL responses, but only in the presence of strong Th1-promoting agents. Here, we demonstrate that neonates are competent to develop vigorous MHC class I-restricted CTL activity in vivo upon exposure to either fully or semi-allogeneic spleen cells. Specific CTL activity was generated using doses of cells approximately tenfold lower than levels used for the induction of GVHD or tolerance. Thus, the present studies demonstrate that mouse neonates are fully mature in their capacity to develop alloreactive CTL activity, as long as the dose of donor cells is low enough. These results have important implications for the known exposure of human fetuses and infants to small numbers of maternal cells.