A limiting dilution assay (LDA) that measures the frequency of TNF producing cells is described. LDA determination is based on the inhibition of growth of a highly TNF sensitive subline from the WEHI-164 fibrosarcoma by using a micro assay sensitive to single picogram amounts of recombinant murine TNF. Using such LDA, it was determined that the reported deficiency in LPS-induced TNF production in C3H/HeJ mice is a function of reduced frequency of TNF producing cells rather than a complete lack of responsiveness. In bulk culture, LPS-triggered TNF was produced by Thy-1.2 negative spleen cells with activity recovered in both G10 Sephadex adherent and nonadherent subpopulations. LPS stimulation of spleen cells from C3H/HeJ mice resulted in TNF mRNA expression as shown in both Northern blots and in situ hybridization. The frequency of TNF mRNA bearing cells in control of C3H/HeSnJ mice by in situ hybridization correlated with that found for TNF producing cells in LDA. In C3H/HeJ spleen, significantly higher numbers of TNF mRNA positive cells were found than were shown to produce TNF in LDA.
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