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Nat Immunol. 2009 Feb;10(2):149-57. doi: 10.1038/ni.1695. Epub 2009 Jan 11.

Interleukin 7 signaling in dendritic cells regulates the homeostatic proliferation and niche size of CD4+ T cells.

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Pediatric Oncology Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


Interleukin 7 (IL-7) and T cell antigen receptor signals have been proposed to be the main drivers of homeostatic T cell proliferation. However, it is not known why CD4(+) T cells undergo less-efficient homeostatic proliferation than CD8(+) T cells do. Here we show that systemic IL-7 concentrations increased during lymphopenia because of diminished use of IL-7 but that IL-7 signaling on IL-7 receptor-alpha-positive (IL-7Ralpha(+)) dendritic cells (DCs) in lymphopenic settings paradoxically diminished the homeostatic proliferation of CD4(+) T cells. This effect was mediated at least in part by IL-7-mediated downregulation of the expression of major histocompatibility complex class II on IL-7Ralpha(+) DCs. Our results indicate that IL-7Ralpha(+) DCs are regulators of the peripheral CD4(+) T cell niche and that IL-7 signals in DCs prevent uncontrolled CD4(+) T cell population expansion in vivo.

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