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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1995 Aug 29;92(18):8373-7.

p53 expression is required for thymocyte apoptosis induced by adenosine deaminase deficiency.

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Division of Immunology and Cancer Research, Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto, ON, Canada.


Adenosine deaminase (ADA, EC is a ubiquitous enzyme in the purine catabolic pathway. In contrast to the widespread tissue distribution of this enzyme, inherited ADA deficiency in human results in a tissue-specific severe combined immunodeficiency. To explain the molecular basis for this remarkable tissue specificity, we have used a genetic approach to study ADA deficiency. We demonstrate that ADA deficiency causes depletion of CD8low transitional and CD4+CD8+ double-positive thymocytes by an apoptotic mechanism. This effect is mediated by a p53-dependent pathway, since p53-deficient mice are resistant to the apoptosis induced by ADA deficiency. DNA damage, known to be caused by the abnormal accumulation of dATP in ADA deficiency, is therefore responsible for the ablation of T-cell development and for the immunodeficiency. The two thymocyte subsets most susceptible to apoptosis induced by ADA deficiency are also the two thymocyte subsets with the lowest levels of bcl-2 expression. We show that thymocytes from transgenic mice that overexpress bcl-2 in the thymus are rescued from apoptosis induced by ADA deficiency. Thus, the tissue specificity of the pathological effects of ADA deficiency is due to the low bcl-2 expression in CD8low transitional and CD4+CD8+ double-positive thymocytes.

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