Gangliosides are potent inhibitors of lymphoproliferative responses. Selectively greater inhibitory effects of gangliosides on antigen-induced (vs. mitogen-induced) proliferation have been documented; e.g., 50 nmol of highly purified bovine brain gangliosides (BBG)/ml caused ≥87% inhibition of proliferative responses of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) to three soluble specific antigens (Candida, streptokinase-streptodornase, and tetanus toxoid) vs. ≤37% inhibition of responses to three nonspecific mitogens (phytohemagglutinin, concanavalin A, and pokeweed mitogen). The possibility that BBG interfere with adherent monocyte accessory function, upon which responses to soluble specific antigens are strictly dependent, was therefore considered. PBMC were separated into the adherent and nonadherent subpopulations, exposed to BBG, recombined, and their proliferative responses were measured. Unseparated PBMC preincubated for 48-72 h with 100 nmol BBG/ml and then washed to remove unbound BBG exhibited 73-76% inhibition of subsequent antigen-induced lymphoproliferation. Separate pretreatment of both adherent and nonadherent cell subpopulations in BBG under the same conditions resulted in similar (72-82%) inhibition, which was reproduced by preincubation of only the adherent cells in BBG. Preincubation of only the nonadherent cells in BBG was not inhibitory. Inhibition (a) was independent of whether gangliosides were added in solution or incorporated into liposomes, (b) was abrogated by adding untreated monocytes to cultures containing adherent cells that were preexposed to BBG (excluding the possibility that BBG was inducing suppression mediated by adherent cells), and (c) was reversible by further incubation of BBG-pretreated adherent cells in control medium. Together, these results delineate a mechanism by which gangliosides modulate lymphoproliferative responses - direct, noncytotoxic, and ultimately reversible inhibition of the accessory function of adherent monocytes.
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