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Immunity. 1999 Mar;10(3):367-76.

Divergent changes in the sensitivity of maturing T cells to structurally related ligands underlies formation of a useful T cell repertoire.

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INSERM U345, Institut Necker, Paris, France.


CD4+ CD8+ thymocyte differentiation requires TCR signaling induced by self-peptide/MHC ligands. Nevertheless, the resulting mature T cells are not activated by these self-complexes, whereas foreign ligands can be potent stimuli. Here, we show that the signaling properties of TCR change during thymocyte maturation, differentially affecting responses to related peptide/MHC molecule complexes and contributing to this discrimination. Weak agonists for CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes lose potency during development, accompanied by a change in TCR-associated phosphorylation from an agonist to a partial agonist/antagonist pattern. In contrast, sensitivity to strong agonists is maintained, along with full signaling. This yields a mature T cell pool highly responsive to foreign antigen while possessing a wide margin of safety against activation by self-ligands.

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