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Eur J Immunol. 2000 Apr;30(4):1145-53.

Quantification of thymic function by measuring T cell receptor excision circles within peripheral blood and lymphoid tissues in monkeys.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas 75235-9113, USA.


The thymus is the primary organ responsible for the production of mature TCR alpha / beta T cells. Quantification of a DNA excision circle that is produced during TCR rearrangement, termed a signal joint TCR rearrangement excision circle (sjTREC) can be used as a measure of thymic function. Here sjTREC measurement has been applied to two monkey species used as animal models of human disease, rhesus macaques (Asian origin) and sooty mangabeys (African origin). Initial PCR analysis determined that the TCR deltaRec-PsiJalpha rearrangement leading to sjTREC formation occurs in both species. Primers to a DNA sequence conserved in macaques, mangabeys and humans were used in a quantitative competitive PCR assay to quantify sjTREC. We found that as in humans, sjTREC in these two monkey species decline with age. sjTREC are first generated in thymocytes during the early stages of TCR rearrangement. Lymph node CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells contain more sjTREC than peripheral blood T cell populations, suggesting that recent thymic emigrants home to the lymphoid tissues. The sjTREC level is significantly higher within the peripheral blood CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells of mangabeys compared to macaques. Removal of the thymus in four macaques led to a profound decrease in peripheral blood sjTREC level by 1 year post-thymectomy, indicating the lack of a significant extra-thymic source of peripheral naive T cells in macaques. Our results indicate that production, trafficking, and proliferation of recent thymic emigrants in these two monkey species represents a useful animal model system for understanding human immunological disorders.

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