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Blood. 2002 Jan 15;99(2):546-54.

Stromal cell-derived factor 1/CXCR4 signaling is critical for early human T-cell development.

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Department of Cell Biology, Faculty of Biology, Complutense University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain.


The present study investigated the potential role of stromal cell-derived factor 1 (SDF-1) in human intrathymic T-cell differentiation. Results show that SDF-1 is produced by human thymic epithelial cells from the subcapsular and medullary areas, and its receptor, CXCR4, is up-regulated on CD34(+) precursor cells committed to the T-cell lineage. Chimeric human-mouse fetal thymus organ culture (FTOC) seeded with purified CD34(+) thymic progenitors and treated with neutralizing antibodies against SDF-1 or CXCR4 showed a significant reduction of the number of human thymocytes and an arrested thymocyte differentiation in the transition between CD34(+) precursor cells and CD4(+) immature thymocytes. SDF-1-treated FTOC showed an increase of human thymocyte numbers, mainly affecting the most immature subpopulations. Moreover, these results suggest that CXCR4/SDF-1 signaling is not critical for the CD34(+) cell precursor recruitment to the thymus. On the other hand, SDF-1 significantly increased the viability of CD34(+) T-cell precursors modulating the expression of BCL-2 and BAX genes, and stimulated the proliferation of CD34(+) thymic precursor cells, particularly in synergy with interleukin 7 (IL-7), but not with other cytokines, such as stem cell factor or flt3-ligand. Accordingly, only IL-7 was able to up-regulate CXCR4 expression on CD34(+) thymic progenitors. In addition, deprivation of SDF-1 partially inhibited human thymocyte expansion induced by IL-7 in human-mouse FTOC. This study indicates that SDF-1/CXCR4 signaling is required for the survival, expansion, and subsequent differentiation of human early thymocytes and identifies a new mechanism by which IL-7 mediates its effects on human thymopoiesis.

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