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Nature. 1988 Dec 1;336(6198):479-81.

Intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes are a distinct set of gamma delta T cells.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge.


Lymphocytes are most reliably subdivided on the basis of their receptors for antigen at the cell surface. Three subtypes of lymphocytes are well defined: B cells that bear surface immunoglobulin and make antibody, CD4+T cells with CD3 alpha beta receptors specific for antigen associated with class II major histocompatibility complex molecules, and CD8+T cells with CD3 alpha beta receptors specific for antigen associated with class I MHC molecules. These T cells are responsible for known forms of cell-mediated immunity. The discovery of a third rearranging T-cell specific gene called gamma (refs 1 and 2) has revealed the presence of a new class of T cells bearing a new receptor type, CD3 gamma delta (refs 3-7). To date, neither the function nor the specificity of cells bearing this receptor has been determined. Because gamma delta T cells are the main lymphocyte of epidermis, it was proposed that such cells could be important in surveillance of all epithelia. We have isolated intraepithelial lymphocytes from murine small intestine, and shown that they predominantly or exclusively express CD3 gamma delta receptors. Unlike the epidermal lymphocytes, these cells also express CD8, and they use a different V lambda gene to form their receptor. This strongly suggests that gamma delta T cells home in a very specific manner to epithelia, where they presumably mediate their function.

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