Research ArticleImmunology

The Long-Term Survival Potential of Mature T Lymphocytes Is Programmed During Development in the Thymus

Science Signaling  15 Nov 2011:
Vol. 4, Issue 199, pp. ra77
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2002246

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Abstract

The homeostatic maintenance of normal numbers of mature T lymphocytes in the immune system depends on signaling from the T cell antigen receptor (TCR) and the interleukin-7 receptor (IL-7R); however, it is unclear whether there is crosstalk between these two receptors. Here, we have identified a central role for TCR signaling during the development of T lymphocytes in the thymus in the determination of IL-7 function in mature T lymphocytes. We showed that Il7r expression in mature T cells was modulated by developmental TCR-dependent signals elicited during the process of positive selection in the thymus and that this mechanism was common to both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Control of Il7r expression by the TCR was limited to thymocytes because neither the abundance nor the function of IL-7Rα was affected by TCR signaling in peripheral T cells. Finally, we showed that thymocytes without optimal IL-7Rα abundance failed to form part of the pool of mature T lymphocytes that patrol the periphery of normal hosts, highlighting the importance of this mechanism in shaping the repertoire of lymphocytes that make up this population.

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