Progesterone-treated pregnancy lymphocytes release an immunologic blocking factor. The mode of action of this substance was investigated. The supernatant of progesterone-treated pregnancy lymphocytes was highly suppressive of natural cytotoxicity toward human embryonic fibroblast target cells as well as of natural killer cell activity. The effect was not observed when progesterone induction was performed in the presence of RU 486, a progesterone receptor blocking agent. The factor was able to inhibit mixed lymphocyte reactions (MLRs), and transfer coculture experiments revealed that this effect was dependent on major histocompatibility complex nonspecific, nonrestricted suppressor T cells. The activation/expansion of suppressor inducer and suppressor effector T cells was further proved by fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis of the populations from MLRs cultured in the presence of the inhibitory factor. These changes were not observed with MLRs performed in the presence of supernatants from progesterone + RU 486-treated peripheral blood lymphocytes. The inhibitory material, on the other hand, did not affect either production or function of IL-2. We conclude that in the presence of high local concentrations of progesterone, a suppressive pathway dependent on specific progesterone-CD8+ lymphocyte interaction might be established. This mechanism might play an important role in the maintenance of pregnancy.
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