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Nat Immunol. 2004 Apr;5(4):418-25. Epub 2004 Feb 29.

Continued maturation of thymic emigrants in the periphery.

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Department of Immunology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-7650, USA.


Developing thymocytes are selected for recognition of molecules encoded by the major histocompatibility complex, purged of self-reactive cells and committed to either the CD4 or CD8 lineage. The 1% of thymocytes that complete these tasks emigrate and join the population of peripheral lymphocytes. Whether T cell maturation is complete at the time of thymic exit has been a subject of debate. Using mice transgenic for green fluorescent protein driven by the recombination activating gene 2 promoter to identify recent thymic emigrants, we now show that T cell differentiation continues post-thymically, with progressive maturation of both surface phenotype and immune function. In addition, the relative contribution of CD4 and CD8 recent thymic emigrants was modulated as they entered the peripheral T cell pool. Thus, T cell maturation and subset contribution are both finalized in the lymphoid periphery.

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