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Int Immunol. 1999 Apr;11(4):499-508.

In vitro differentiation of a CD4/CD8 double-positive equivalent thymocyte subset in adult Xenopus.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Rochester Medical Center, NY 14642, USA.


The thymus is the major site of selection and differentiation of T cells in mammals and birds. To begin to study the evolution of thymocyte differentiation, we have developed, in the frog Xenopus, an in vitro system that takes advantage of cortical thymocyte antigen (CTX), a recently discovered T cell antigen whose expression is restricted to Xenopus cortical thymocytes. Upon transient stimulation with suboptimal mitogenic concentrations of the phorbol ester phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) plus ionomycin, Xenopus thymocytes are induced to differentiate into cycling T lymphoblasts that actively synthesize and express high levels of surface MHC class I and class II molecules. This appearance of T lymphoblasts correlates with a rapid down-regulation of both surface CTX protein and CTX mRNA. A thymocyte subset with an immature phenotype (CTX+, CD8+, class II- or class II low and class I-) was characterized by depleting class II+ cells or by panning with anti-CTX mAb. This immature CTX+ thymocyte subset displays a limited proliferative capacity compared to total, class II+ or to CTX- thymocytes, and can be induced, by PMA/ionomycin, to differentiate into more mature T lymphoblasts expressing surface class II and class I molecules. These results provide the first in vitro evidence in an ectothermic vertebrate of a conserved intrathymic pathway of thymocyte differentiation. In addition, our data reveal that CTX can serve as a differentiation surface marker of a population of immature thymocytes that appears to be the equivalent of the mammalian CD4/CD8 double-positive subset.

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