Adaptive tolerance is a process by which T cells become desensitized when Ag stimulation persists following an initial immune response in vivo. To examine the biochemical changes in TCR signaling present in this state, we used a mouse model in which Rag2(-/-) TCR-transgenic CD4(+) T cells were transferred into CD3epsilon(-/-) recipients expressing their cognate Ag. Compared with naive T cells, adaptively tolerant T cells had normal levels of TCR and slightly increased levels of CD4. Following activation with anti-TCR and anti-CD4 mAbs, the predominant signaling block in the tolerant cells was at the level of Zap70 kinase activity, which was decreased 75% in vitro. Phosphorylations of the Zap70 substrates (linker of activated T cells and phospholipase Cgamma1 were also profoundly diminished. This proximal defect impacted mostly on the calcium/NFAT and NF-kappaB pathways, with only a modest decrease in ERK1/2 phosphorylation. This state was contrasted with T cell clonal anergy in which the RAS/MAPK pathway was preferentially impaired and there was much less inhibition of Zap70 kinase activity. Both hyporesponsive states manifested a block in IkappaB degradation. These results demonstrate that T cell adaptive tolerance and clonal anergy are distinct biochemical states, possibly providing T cells with two molecular mechanisms to curtail responsiveness in different biological circumstances.
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