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Why T cells of thymic versus extrathymic origin are functionally different.

Blais ME, Brochu S, Giroux M, Bélanger MP, Dulude G, Sékaly RP, Perreault C

Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, and Department of Medicine, University of Montreal, Station Centre-Ville, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Age-related thymic involution severely impairs immune responsiveness. Strategies to generate T cells extrathymically are therefore being explored with intense interest. We have demonstrated that T cells produced extrathymically were functionally deficient relative to thymus-derived T cells. The main limitation of extrathymic T cells is their undue susceptibility to apoptosis; they thus do not expand properly when confronted with pathogens. Using oncostatin M-transgenic mice, we found that in the absence of lymphopenia, T cells of extrathymic origin constitutively undergo excessive homeostatic proliferation that leads to overproduction of IL-2 and IFN-gamma. IFN-gamma up-regulates Fas and FasL on extrathymic CD8 T cells, thereby leading to their demise by Fas-mediated apoptosis. Moreover, IFN-gamma and probably IL-2 curtail survival of extrathymic CD4 T cells by down-regulating IL-7Ralpha and Bcl-2, and they support a dramatic accumulation of FoxP3(+) T regulatory cells. Additionally, we show that wild-type thymus-derived T cells undergoing homeostatic proliferation in a lymphopenic host shared key features of extrathymic T cells. Our work explains how excessive lymphopenia-independent homeostatic proliferation renders extrathymic T cells functionally defective. Based on previous work and data presented herein, we propose that extrathymic T cells undergo constitutive homeostatic proliferation because they are positively selected by lymph node hemopoietic cells rather than by thymic epithelial cells.

J. Immunol. 2008;180(4):2299-312.

Pubmed ID: 18250439

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