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Immunology. 1992 Nov;77(3):362-8.

Expression of cytokines and their receptors by human thymocytes and thymic stromal cells.

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Division of Immunology/Cancer Research, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The repertoire of cytokine and cytokine receptor mRNA expressed by unstimulated human thymocytes and thymic stromal cells was explored by a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using sequence specific internal standards. Of the 18 cytokines tested we found a considerable overlap in the expression of cytokines by human thymocytes and by thymic stromal cells; both cell types express the mRNA for interleukin-1 beta(IL-1, IL-6, IL-7 and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). However, there are substantial differences in the levels of cytokine mRNA expressed in these two types of cells as revealed by the quantitative PCR assay. Stromal cells express considerably higher levels of IL-1 beta and IL-6 than thymocytes (14- and 27-fold respectively). In addition, a number of cytokines such as lymphotoxin and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), are expressed exclusively in thymocytes whereas others such as stem cell factor (SCF), IL-1 receptor antagonist-2 (IRAP-2) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) are produced only in stromal cells. There is a complete overlap in the expression of a group of cytokine receptors tested in thymocytes and thymic stromal cells; these include IL-1R, IL-2R, IL-6R, IL-7R, TNFR and stem cell growth factor receptor (c-KIT). The expression of specific cytokines by thymic stromal cells and the parallel expression of their receptors on thymocytes under physiological conditions, support the hypothesis that these cytokines participate in paracrine interactions between these two cell populations during thymocyte differentiation.

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