Antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC), has been shown to be independent in vitro of thymus-derived lymphocytes, but the precise nature of the effector lymphocyte has not been fully clarified. To further study the identity of the ADCC effector cell type(s), peripheral blood leukocytes were purified by Ficoll-Hypaque density centrifugation and fractionated into surface immunoglobulin-positive [Ig(+)] and surface immunoglobulin-negative [Ig(-)] populations by chromatographic separation on Sephadex G-200 anti-human immunoglobulin columns. After column fractionations, the ADCC effector activity against antibody-coated autologous lymphocytes was predominantly and consistently found in the Ig(-) fraction. This latter population was then further fractionated, by rosetting techniques, into two subpopulations, The first was depleted by lymphocytes with surface receptors for sheep red blood cells [E(+)]and the second was depleted of lymphocytes with receptors for sheep red blood cell-antibody-complement [EAC-(+)]. Analysis of these populations showed that ADCC effector activity was predominantly a property of the Ig(-) lmyphocytes which are E(-) but EAC(+). These lymphocytes have been referred to as "null lymphocytes" and probably represent a subset of bone marrow-derived (B) cells. In addition, variable and low levels of ADCC activity were observed in some Ig(+) populations (B cells). Further purification of the null cell population by filtration over nylon wool columns to reduce the number of contaminating latex ingesting monocytes did not reduce ADCC effector activity. Isolated null cell ADCC effector activity was inhibited by either rabbit anti-human F(ab)2 or normal pooled rabbit gamma globulin, but not by rabbit F(ab)2 anti-human F)ab)2 or media. This supports the contention previously suggested in studies using unfractionated lymphocyte populations that the ADCC effector cell recognizes the Fc portion of the antibody molecule. The variable and low level of activity noted in the Ig(+) populations is unexplained but possibly due to a variable population of null cell-derived Ig(+) lymphocytes within the whole Ig(+) population. In conclusion, these experiments demonstrate that, in vitro, the major ADCC effector activity of circulating human peripheral blood lymphocytes resides in the Ig(-), E(-), EAC-(+) subpopulation termed "null cells." Since it has been noted that in certain disease states, such as immunodeficiency syndromes, autoimmune disorders, and neoplasms, the percentage of this population of lymphocytes in the peripheral blood is elevated, it is speculated that these cells, perhaps through their ADCC function, may play an important pathophysiologic role in these diseases.
A M Brier, L Chess, S F Schlossman