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J Immunol. 2011 Apr 1;186(7):4500-7. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1001700. Epub 2011 Feb 23.

Decreased thymic output accounts for decreased naive T cell numbers in children with Down syndrome.

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Department of Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology, University Medical Centre Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Children with Down syndrome (DS) have low numbers of naive T cells and abnormal thymus development and function. Because next to thymic production, peripheral proliferation greatly contributes to naive T cell generation in healthy children, we examined the cause of reduced naive T cell numbers in children with DS. Compared with aged matched controls, the total number of signal joint TCR excision circles (sjTREC) per ml blood was reduced in DS. Reduced frequencies and absolute numbers of protein tyrosine kinase 7-positive recent thymic emigrants, but similar levels of naive T cell apoptosis and Ag-driven activation in DS, suggested that reduced thymic output and not increased peripheral loss of naive T cells caused the reduced sjTREC numbers. We found no support for defective peripheral generation of naive T cells in DS. In DS the naive T cells responded to IL-7 and, based on Ki-67 expression, had similar proliferation rates as in healthy controls. sjTREC content per naive CD8(+) T cells was not increased, but even decreased, pointing to increased survival or peripheral generation of naive T cells in DS. In conclusion, we show in this study that reduced thymic output, but not reduced peripheral generation nor increased loss of naive T cells, results in the low naive T cell numbers found in DS.

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