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Keywords:

  • Thymus;
  • γδ T cell;
  • Cytokine;
  • T cell receptor repertoire

Abstract

We have characterized the function, phenotype, ontogenic development, and T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire of a subpopulation of γδ thymocytes, initially defined by expressing low levels of Thy-1, that represents around 5 % and 30 % of total γδ thymocytes in adult C57BL/6 and DBA/2 mice, respectively. Activation of FACS-sorted Thy-1dull γδ thymocytes from DBA/2 mice with anti-γδ monoclonal antibodies in the presence of interleukin-2 (IL-2) results in the secretion of high levels of several cytokines, including interferon-γ (IFN-γ), IL-4, IL-10, and IL-3. In contrast, only IFN-γ was detected in parallel cultures of Thy-1bright γδ thymocytes. Virtually all Thy-1dull γδ thymocytes express high levels of CD44 and low levels of the heat-stable antigen and CD62 ligand, while around half of them express the NK1.1 marker. Thy-1dull γδ thymocytes are barely detectable in newborn animals, and their representation increases considerably during the first 2 weeks of postnatal life. The majority of Thy-1dull γδ thymocytes from DBA/2 mice express TCR encoded by the Vγ1 gene and a novel Vδ6 gene named Vδ6.4. Sequence analysis of these functionally rearranged γ and δ genes revealed highly restricted Vδ-Dδ-Jδ junctions, and somewhat more diverse Vγ-Jγ junctions. We conclude that Thy-1dull γδ thymocytes exhibit properties that are equivalent to those of natural killer TCRαβ T cells. Both cell populations produce the same distinct pattern of cytokines upon activation, share a number of phenotypic markers originally defined for activated or memory T cells, display similar postnatal kinetics of appearance in the thymus and express a very restricted TCR repertoire.