Interleukin-7 in the transition of bone marrow progenitors to the thymus

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Interleukin-7 (IL-7) is essential for the development of T cells in humans and mice where deficiencies in IL-7 signaling result in severe immunodeficiency. T cells require IL-7 at multiple points during development; however, it is unclear when IL-7 is first necessary. We observed that mice with impaired IL-7 signaling had a large reduction in the number of early thymic progenitors (ETPs) while mice that overexpress IL-7 had greatly increased numbers of ETPs. These results indicated that the development of ETPs is sensitive to IL-7. Bone marrow progenitors of ETP are present in normal numbers in mice with impaired IL-7 signaling (IL-7Rα449F) and were efficiently recruited to the thymus. Furthermore, ETPs and their progenitors from IL-7Rα449F mice did not undergo increased apoptosis and proliferate normally compared to WT cells. Mixed bone marrow chimeras demonstrated that IL-7 signaling has a cell-intrinsic role in ETP development but was not required for development of bone marrow progenitors. We have shown a novel role for IL-7 signaling in the development of ETPs that is distinct from classic mechanisms of IL-7 regulating survival and proliferation.

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