In vitro studies have indicated that chronic lymphocytic leukemia of B- cell origin (B-CLL) is resistant to cytotoxic effector lymphocytes such as natural killer and lymphokine activated killer (LAK) cells. We show here that B-cell cells are sensitive to Staphylococcal enterotoxin (SE) A-directed T-cell killing. Activation of the target cells by phorbol ester (tetradecanoyl phorbol acetate, [TPA]) greatly enhances their sensitivity to lysis. In SE-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (SDCC), members of the SE superantigen family form a bridge between T cells and target cells expressing major histocompatability complex class II molecules. Binding of SEA to the T-cell-receptor V beta region induces a strong cytotoxic capacity and cytokine production. Cells from 9 B-CLL patients were cultured in the presence or absence of TPA and used as targets in a 4-hour SDCC assay using an allogeneic T-cell line as effector. At an effector:target cell ratio 30:1, 70% to 80% of TPA- induced B-CLL cells were killed. Even at the effector:target ratio of 3:1, 47% +/- 6% of TPA-activated B-cell cells were lysed compared with 13% +/- 2% of resting cells (P < .001). A T-cell line established from a B-CLL patient killed autologous tumor cells as efficiently as allogeneic effectors. SEA-directed T cells were far more lytic to B-CLL cells compared with LAK cells or lectin (phytohemagglutinin-directed T cells. Mechanisms of SDCC lysis were investigated. Effector plus target cell supernatants contained high levels of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)- alpha and interferon-gamma, but these supernatants were not directly toxic to B-CLL cells in short term culture. High concentrations of recombinant TNF-alpha or TNF-beta had no lytic effect. Addition of neutralizing anti-TNF-alpha and anti-TNF-beta antibodies into the SDCC assay did not inhibit SEA-directed T-cell killing. TPA-activated B-CLL cells showed a 1.2- to 13-fold increased expression of the adhesion molecules intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), lymphocyte function-associated antigen (LFA)-1, and LFA-3, whereas expression of HLA class II molecules increased up to 5 times. The expression of CD72, CD40, and BB-1/B7 increased 1.8 to 4.5 times. The role of these surface molecules in SDCC was analyzed in blocking experiments with monoclonal antibodies. Antibodies to ICAM-1, CD18, and HLA-DR abolished the cytotoxicity, and a substantial reduction was seen with antibody to CD72.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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