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J Immunol. 1998 Jun 15;160(12):5838-50.

High frequency apoptosis of recent thymic emigrants in the liver of lymphopenic diabetes-prone BioBreeding rats.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester 01655, USA.


Diabetes-prone (DP) BioBreeding (BB) rats develop spontaneous autoimmune diabetes. DP-BB thymocyte export is reduced, and most thymic emigrants disappear rapidly from peripheral lymphoid tissues. DP-BB rats are consequently lymphopenic and circulate severely reduced numbers of T cells. Peripheral T cells present are phenotypically immature (Thy1+) and appear activated. We hypothesized that DP-BB recent thymic emigrants have a shortened life span and disappear by apoptosis. The percentage of T cells with an alphabetaTCR(low) B220+ CD4- CD8- phenotype was increased in DP peripheral lymphoid tissues when compared with normal, nonlymphopenic diabetes-resistant (DR) BB rat tissues. There was no evidence of DNA fragmentation in freshly isolated DP- or DR-BB rat cells, but, after 24 h of culture, a higher proportion of DP- than DR-BB splenic T cells underwent apoptosis. We then tested the hypothesis that BB rat T cells with the alphabetaTCR(low) B220+ CD4- CD8- phenotype accumulate and undergo apoptosis in the liver. Such cells were observed undergoing apoptosis in both DP- and DR-BB rats, but comprised approximately 80% of intrahepatic T cells in DP vs approximately 20% in DR-BB rats. Most alphabetaTCR(low) B220+ CD4- CD8- cells in the liver were also Thy1+. The data suggest that T cell apoptosis in the DP-BB rat is underway in peripheral lymphoid tissues and is completed in the liver. Increased intrahepatic apoptosis of recent thymic emigrants appears in part responsible for lymphopenia in DP-BB rats and the concomitant predisposition of these animals to autoimmunity.

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