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Microbiol Immunol. 1993;37(4):247-58.

Extrathymic pathways of T-cell differentiation: a primitive and fundamental immune system.

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Department of Medical Zoology and Immunology, Niigata University School of Medicine, Japan.


In addition to an intrathymic pathway of T-cell differentiation, extrathymic pathways of T-cell differentiation have recently been demonstrated to occur in multiple sites in mice. Such sites include the sinusoids of the liver, the intraepithelial region of the intestine, and the omentum of the peritoneal cavity. Although these extrathymic pathways are minimal at a young age, they become predominant with aging. Extrathymically differentiated T cells display many properties distinct from those of regular T cells of thymic origin. For instance, they consist of a considerably large proportion of gamma delta T cells as well as alpha beta T cells, contain double-negative CD4-CD8- cells and self-reactive oligoclones, constitutively express the II-2 receptor beta-chain, and have an alpha alpha homodimer of CD8 if they carry it. Cumulative evidence reveals that the extrathymic pathways comprise a primitive and fundamental immune system in the body and play a pivotal role in immune reactions under conditions of aging, bacterial infections, malignancies, autoimmune diseases, and pregnancy.

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