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Immunology. 1996 Mar;87(3):402-7.

Evidence against T-cell development in the adult human intestinal mucosa based upon lack of terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase expression.

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  • 1Division of Hematology-Oncology, Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


Several lines of evidence indicate that a subset of murine intestinal intraepithelial lymphocytes (iIEL), particularly those which express the CD8 alpha alpha homodimer, mature extrathymically. This study confirms that a small fraction of adult human iIEL also express the CD8 alpha alpha homodimer and demonstrates that most of these cells in the small intestine are T cells using the alpha beta T-cell receptor (TCR). Whether these cells or other subsets of adult human iIEL mature extrathymically in the intestine was assessed by measuring the expression of terminal deoxynucleotidyltransferase (TdT), an enzyme expressed exclusively by immature lymphocytes. Very low levels of TdT message could be detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification in some iIEL samples. The level of TdT expression was assayed by competitive PCR amplification and compared with thymocytes and peripheral blood lymphocytes. These measurements indicated that the number of immature T cells expressing TdT in the intestinal epithelium was less than one cell per 10(7) lymphocytes. This demonstrates that there are few if any TdT expressing immature T cells in the adult human intestinal mucosa and indicates, therefore, that T-cell development in the intestinal mucosa does not contribute significantly to the T-cell repertoire of the adult human intestine.

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