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J Immunol. 1996 Jun 15;156(12):4609-16.

Thymic-independent T cell regeneration occurs via antigen-driven expansion of peripheral T cells resulting in a repertoire that is limited in diversity and prone to skewing.

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Experimental Immunology Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Thymic regenerative capacity in humans decreases with age, suggesting that thymic-independent pathways of T cell regeneration may predominate during adulthood. Using a murine bone marrow transplantation model, we present evidence that thymic-independent T cell regeneration occurs primarily via expansion of peripheral T cells and is Ag driven since significant expansion of CD4+ or CD8+ transgenic (Tg+)/TCR-bearing cells occurs only in the presence of Ag specific for the TCR. Such expansion resulted in skewing of the regenerated repertoire with 40 to 65% of the regenerated CD4+ or CD8+ T cells expressing the Tg+/TCR in thymectomized hosts after bone marrow transplantation. In experiments in which nontransgenic population are used as T cell inocula, we noted decreased CD4 expansion when Class II MHC was blocked by mAb treatment in vivo, an CD8 expansion failed to occur in Class I MHC-deficient hosts providing evidence that T cell regeneration in thymic-deficient hosts largely occurs via TCR-MHC-mediated selection of peripheral T cell populations. This process results in a T cell repertoire comprised exclusively of T cells recently activated by the antigenic milieu of the host, with negligible numbers of residual "naive" cells bearing TCRs for Ags absent at the time of expansion. These findings have important implications for approached to enhance T cell regeneration in humans and provide evidence that vaccine strategies could skew the T cell repertoire toward a specific antigenic target if administered to thymic-deficient hosts during immune reconstitution.

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