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Nature. 2006 Dec 21;444(7122):1073-7.

Early events in the thymus affect the balance of effector and regulatory T cells.

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Peter Gorer Department of Immunobiology, King's College London School of Medicine, Guy's Hospital, London SE1 9RT, UK.


In cellular immunology the critical balance between effector and regulatory mechanisms is highlighted by serious immunopathologies attributable to mutations in Foxp3, a transcription factor required for a major subset of regulatory T (Tr) cells. Thus, many studies have focused on the developmental origin of Tr cells, with the prevailing view that they emerge in the thymus from late-stage T-cell progenitors whose T-cell receptors (TCRs) engage high affinity (agonist) ligands. This study questions the completeness of that interpretation. Here we show that without any obvious effect on TCR-mediated selection, the normal differentiation of mouse gammabeta T cells into potent cytolytic and interferon-gamma-secreting effector cells is switched towards an aggregate regulatory phenotype by limiting the capacity of CD4+CD8+ T-cell progenitors to influence in trans early gammabeta cell progenitors. Unexpectedly, we found that the propensity of early TCR-alphabeta+ progenitors to differentiate into Foxp3+ Tr cells is also regulated in trans by CD4+CD8+ T-cell progenitor cells, before agonist selection.

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