Interleukin-7 supports survival of T-cell receptor-β-expressing CD4 CD8 double-negative thymocytes


Correspondence: Dr Thomas M. Yankee, Department of Microbiology, Molecular Genetics, and Immunology, University of Kansas Medical Center, 3901 Rainbow Blvd, 3025 WHW – MS 3029, Kansas City, KS 66160, USA. Email:

Senior author: Thomas M. Yankee


Among the milestones that occur during T-cell development in the thymus is the expression of T-cell receptor-β (TCR-β) and the formation of the pre-TCR complex. Signals emanating from the pre-TCR trigger survival, proliferation and differentiation of T-cell precursors. Although the pre-TCR is essential for these cell outcomes, other receptors, such as Notch and CXCR4, also contribute. Whether interleukin-7 (IL-7) participates in promoting the survival or proliferation of pre-TCR-expressing cells is controversial. We used in vitro and in vivo models of T-cell development to examine the function of IL-7 in TCR-β-expressing thymocytes. Culturing TCR-β-expressing CD4 CD8 double-negative thymocytes in an in vitro model of T-cell development revealed that IL-7 reduced the frequency of CD4+ CD8+ double-positive thymocytes at the time of harvest. The mechanism for this change in the percentage of double-positive cells was that IL-7 promoted the survival of thymocytes that had not yet differentiated. By preserving the double-negative population, IL-7 reduced the frequency of double-positive thymocytes. Interleukin-7 was not required for proliferation in the in vitro system. To follow this observation, we examined mice lacking CD127 (IL-7Rα). In addition to the known effect of CD127 deficiency on T-cell development before TCR-β expression, CD127 deficiency also impaired the development of TCR-β-expressing double-negative thymocytes. Specifically, we found that Bcl-2 expression and cell cycle progression were reduced in TCR-β-expressing double-negative thymocytes in mice lacking CD127. We conclude that IL-7 continues to function after TCR-β is expressed by promoting the survival of TCR-β-expressing double-negative thymocytes.