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Immunol Rev. 2010 Nov;238(1):169-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-065X.2010.00947.x.

αβ versus γδ fate choice: counting the T-cell lineages at the branch point.

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  • 1Laboratory of Lymphocyte Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Both αβ and γδ T cells develop in the thymus from a common progenitor. Historically distinguished by their T-cell receptor (TCR), these lineages are now defined on the basis of distinct molecular programs. Intriguingly, in many transgenic and knockout systems these programs are mismatched with the TCR type, leading to the development of γδ lineage cells driven by αβTCR and vice versa. These puzzling observations were recently explained by the demonstration that TCR signal strength, rather than TCR type per se, instructs lineage fate, with stronger TCR signal favoring γδ and weaker signal favoring αβ lineage fates. These studies also highlighted the ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinase)-Egr (early growth response)-Id3 (inhibitor of differentiation 3) axis as a potential molecular switch downstream of TCR that determines lineage choice. Indeed, removal of Id3 was sufficient to redirect TCRγδ transgenic cells to the αβ lineage, even in the presence of strong TCR signal. However, in TCR non-transgenic Id3 knockout mice the overall number of γδ lineage cells was increased due to an outgrowth of a Vγ1Vδ6.3 subset, suggesting that not all γδ T cells depend on this molecular switch for lineage commitment. Thus, the γδ lineage may in fact be a collection of two or more lineages not sharing a common molecular program and thus equipollent to the αβ lineage. TCR signaling is not the only factor that is required for development of αβ and γδ lineage cells; other pathways, such as signaling from Notch and CXCR4 receptors, cooperate with the TCR in this process.

© 2010 John Wiley & Sons A/S.

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