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Immunology. 2006 Oct;119(2):243-53.

Prolonged exposure of naïve CD8+ T cells to interleukin-7 or interleukin-15 stimulates proliferation without differentiation or loss of telomere length.

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  • 1Edward Jenner Institute for Vaccine Research, Compton, UK.


Interleukin (IL)-7 and IL-15 are cytokines implicated in homeostatic control of the peripheral CD8 T-cell pool. We compared the effects of IL-7 and IL-15 on survival and proliferation of purified human CD8+ T-cell subsets. Low concentrations of either cytokine reduced the spontaneous apoptosis of all subsets, and enhancement of survival corresponded to the extent of Bcl-2 up-regulation. Surprisingly, although minimal proliferation of naïve CD8+ T cells was observed during the first week of culture with cytokines, a marked expansion of these cells occurred at later time points, particularly in response to IL-15. This occurred largely without phenotypic change or acquisition of effector function, indicating a dissociation of differentiation from proliferation. Notably, progression of naïve CD8+ T cells through several cell divisions resulted in up-regulation of telomerase and the maintenance of telomere length. These data show that IL-7 and IL-15 induce cell proliferation and rescue from apoptosis in a concentration, time and subset-dependent manner, and have implications for the homeostatic expansion of the naïve CD8+ T-cell pool.

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