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Cell Death Differ. 1999 May;6(5):402-11.

Caspases in T-cell receptor-induced thymocyte apoptosis.

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  • 1Molecular Development of the Immune System Section, Laboratory of Immunology, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1892, USA.


Apoptosis eliminates inappropriate or autoreactive T lymphocytes during thymic development. Intracellular mediators involved in T-cell receptor (TCR)-mediated apoptosis in developing thymocytes during negative selection are therefore of great interest. Caspases, cysteine proteases that mediate mature T-cell apoptosis, have been implicated in thymocyte cell death, but their regulation is not understood. We examined caspase activities in distinct thymocyte subpopulations that represent different stages of T-cell development. We found caspase activity in CD4+CD8+ double positive (DP) thymocytes, where selection involving apoptosis occurs. Earlier and later thymocyte stages exhibited no caspase activity. Only certain caspases, such as caspase-3 and caspase-8-like proteases, but not caspase-1, are active in DP thymocytes in vivo and can be activated when DP thymocytes are induced to undergo apoptosis in vitro by TCR-crosslinking. Thus, specific caspases appear to be developmentally regulated in thymocytes.

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