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Blood. 1998 Apr 15;91(8):2760-71.

Identification of a common developmental pathway for thymic natural killer cells and dendritic cells.

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Centro de Biología Molecular "Severo Ochoa," Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, Spain.


Current data support the notion that the thymus is seeded by a yet uncommitted progenitor cell able to generate T cells, B cells, natural killer (NK) cells, and dendritic cells (DCs). We assess in this report the developmental relationship of DCs and NK cells derived from a small subset of CD34(+) human postnatal thymocytes that, like the earliest precursors in the fetal thymus, display low CD33 surface expression. Culture of these isolated CD34(+) CD33(lo) thymic progenitors with a mixture of cytokines, including interleukin-7 (IL-7), IL-1alpha, IL-6, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, and stem cell factor, results in predominant generation of DCs. However, the addition of IL-2 to the cytokine mixture leads to the simultaneous development of DCs and NK cells. Both developmental pathways progress through a transient population of CD34(+)CD44(bright) CD5(lo/-)CD33(+) large-sized cells, distinct from small-sized T-lineage precursors, that contain bipotential NK/DC progenitors. These data provide evidence of linked pathways of NK cell and DC development from intrathymic precursors and suggest that NK cells and DCs branch off the T lineage through a common intermediate progenitor.

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