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J Immunol. 2000 Nov 15;165(10):5621-30.

TNF regulates thymocyte production by apoptosis and proliferation of the triple negative (CD3-CD4-CD8-) subset.

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  • 1Immunology Program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY 10021, USA.


TNF is a proinflammatory cytokine with opposing death/no-death effects in vivo and in vitro. Our studies showed that TNF regulates mouse thymocyte production, inducing both apoptosis and proliferation of the most immature CD3(-)CD4(-)CD8(-) triple negative (TN) subset within a broad range of dosages (10(1)-10(5) pg/ml) in the presence of IL-7. TNF apoptosis affected only the TN3 (CD44(-)CD25(+)) and TN4 (CD44(-)CD25(-)) subsets that expressed both TNFR-p55 and -p75. Although each TNFR alone could mediate TNF apoptosis, maximal apoptosis was seen in C57BL/6J wild type, which expressed both TNFRs. TNF also induced proliferation of TN3 cells at higher doses (10(4)-10(5) pg/ml) mediated only by TNFR-p75. Both anti-TNFR-p55 and -TNFR-p75 mAb inhibited apoptosis but only anti-p75 inhibited proliferation. TNF also regulated TN proliferation to IL-7 because TNFR knockout (KO), TNF KO, and TNF/lymphotoxin alpha and beta triple KO mice showed 2- to 3-fold increased responses not seen in C57BL/6J wild type. In vivo, TNFR KO mice showed thymic hypertrophy with a 60% increase in total thymocytes, with no effect on the CD4/CD8 subsets. We conclude that TNF maintains homeostatic control of total thymocyte production by negative selection of TN3 and TN4 prothymocytes and down-regulation of their proliferation to endogenous IL-7.

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