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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Mar 19;93(6):2245-52.

The anatomy of T-cell activation and tolerance.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and the Center for Immunology, University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis 55455, USA.


The mammalian immune system must specifically recognize and eliminate foreign invaders but refrain from damaging the host. This task is accomplished in part by the production of a large number of T lymphocytes, each bearing a different antigen receptor to match the enormous variety of antigens present in the microbial world. However, because antigen receptor diversity is generated by a random mechanism, the immune system must tolerate the function of T lymphocytes that by chance express a self-reactive antigen receptor. Therefore, during early development, T cells that are specific for antigens expressed in the thymus are physically deleted. The population of T cells that leaves the thymus and seeds the secondary lymphoid organs contains helpful cells that are specific for antigens from microbes but also potentially dangerous T cells that are specific for innocuous extrathymic self antigens. The outcome of an encounter by a peripheral T cell with these two types of antigens is to a great extent determined by the inability of naive T cells to enter nonlymphoid tissues or to be productively activated in the absence of inflammation.

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