Mutually antagonistic signals regulate selection of the T cell repertoire

Geoffrey L. Stephens, Jonathan D. Ashwell, Leszek Ignatowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations


The sensitivity of T cells to agonist-induced death during development contrasts with their proliferative responses after agonist challenge in the periphery. The means by which TCR engagement results in these distinct outcomes is incompletely understood. It has been previously hypothesized that glucocorticoids (GC) modulate the threshold for thymocyte activation by blunting the consequences of TCR engagement. In support of this possibility, inhibition of GC production in fetal thymic organ culture was shown to result in CD4+CD8+ thymocyte apoptosis. This was dependent upon MHC diversity, implying that endogenous GC might regulate antigen-specific selection. Similarly, mice expressing reduced GC receptor (GR) levels due to the presence of an antisense transgene have fewer CD4+CD8+ thymocytes, which was due to an impaired transition from CD4-CD8- precursors and increased apoptosis. Here we ask how manipulating peptide diversity in the context of reduced GC signaling might affect T cell development and function. In mice with impaired GR expression there was a rescue of thymocyte cellularity and proportions as the diversity of peptides presented by self-MHC was reduced. Furthermore, whereas more CD4+ T cells survived the selection process in mice expressing single-peptide-MHC class II complexes and reduced GR levels, these cells largely failed to recognize the same MHC molecules bound with foreign peptides. Together, these results support a role for endogenous GC in balancing TCR-mediated signals during thymic selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-632
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Immunology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2003


  • Knockout
  • Lymphocyte development
  • T lymphocyte
  • Thymus
  • Transgenic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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