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J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2011 Oct;128(4):854-863.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2011.07.039. Epub 2011 Aug 25.

Effects of purine nucleoside phosphorylase deficiency on thymocyte development.

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Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program, Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Inherited or acquired defects in purine nucleoside phosphorylase (PNP) impair purine metabolism, as well as the survival and function of T lymphocytes. However, the effects of PNP deficiency on thymocyte development are not well known.


We sought to study thymocyte development in PNP-deficient (PNP-KO) mice.


Maturation, proliferation, and apoptosis were determined in thymocytes from PNP-KO mice and hematopoietic stem cells from these mice grown ex vivo into thymocyte-like cells.


Reduced percentages of CD4(+)CD8(+) double-positive (DP) thymocytes with normal percentages of CD4(-)CD8(+) and CD4(+)CD8(-) single-positive thymocytes were found in the thymi of PNP-KO mice. Similarly, reduced DP-like thymocytes grew ex vivo from hematopoietic stem cells of PNP-KO mice. Thymi of PNP-KO mice contained increased apoptotic DP thymocytes. Increased apoptosis of PNP-deficient DP thymocytes occurred after exposure to deoxyguanosine (dGuo), although not after Fas ligation, and could be prevented by restoring PNP activity within the cells. In DP thymocytes from PNP-KO mice, dGuo caused mitochondrial membrane potential dissipation and induced release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria followed by nuclear DNA fragmentation. Inhibition of the caspase pathway prevented dGuo-induced nuclear DNA fragmentation but not mitochondrial membrane potential dissipation, indicating that PNP deficiency induces apoptosis that is initiated in the mitochondria of DP thymocytes. 5-Bromo-2-deoxyuridine incorporation demonstrated that PNP deficiency does not interfere with DP or single-positive thymocyte proliferation.


PNP is important for the survival of DP thymocytes. Accumulation of dGuo in cases of PNP deficiency leads to mitochondria-initiated apoptosis of DP thymocytes, which can be prevented by restoring PNP activity in the cells.

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