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Nature. 1989 Oct 19;341(6243):651-4.

Intrathymic signalling in immature CD4+CD8+ thymocytes results in tyrosine phosphorylation of the T-cell receptor zeta chain.

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Experimental Immunology Branch, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


Thymic selection of the developing T-cell repertoire occurs in immature CD4+CD8+ double-positive thymocytes and is thought to be mediated by signals transduced by T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) molecules and possibly by CD4 and CD8 accessory molecules as well. It is not known, however, which signal-transduction mechanisms function in immature CD4+CD8+ thymocytes on engagement of TCR, CD4 or CD8 molecules. In mature T cells, CD4 and CD8 molecules are each associated with the src-like protein tyrosine kinase p56 lck and signals transduced by TCR and CD4 activate tyrosine kinases that phosphorylate TCR-zeta chains and other intracellular substrates. Consequently, we examined whether tyrosine kinases could be similarly activated in immature CD4+CD8+ thymocytes. Unexpectedly, we found that TCR-zeta chains from CD4+CD8+ thymocytes were already phosphorylated in vivo, and that dephosphorylation of this TCR subunit occurred on removal of CD4+CD8+ cells from their intrathymic environment. Rephosphorylation of TCR-zeta in cultured CD4+CD8+ thymocytes occurred rapidly in vitro, either in response to cross-linking of TCR, CD4 or CD8 by specific monoclonal antibodies, or on cell-cell contact. These observations indicate that tyrosine kinases are activated in vivo in immature CD4+CD8+ thymocytes undergoing thymic differentiation and selection. They also indicate that TCR, CD4 and CD8 molecules can function in CD4+CD8+ thymocytes as signalling molecules to activate tyrosine kinases and that phosphorylated TCR-zeta serves as a marker of these signalling events.

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