IL-7 enhances the survival and maintains the size of naive T cells.
T cells require continual presence of extrinsic signals from their in vivo microenvironment to maintain viability. T cells removed from these signals and placed in tissue culture atrophied and died in a caspase-independent manner. Atrophy was characterized by smaller cell sizes, delayed mitogenic responses, and decreased glycolytic rate. Bcl-2 expression remained constant in vitro despite ongoing cell death, indicating that endogenous Bcl-2 expression is insufficient to explain the life span and size control of lymphocytes in vivo and that cell-extrinsic signals provided may be required to maintain both cell viability and size in vivo. One such signal, IL-7, was found to maintain both the size and survival of neglected T cells in vitro. IL-7 was not unique, because the common gamma-chain cytokines IL-2, IL-4, and IL-15, as well as the gp130 cytokine IL-6, also promoted both T cell survival and size maintenance. IL-7 did not induce resting T cells to proliferate. Instead, IL-7 stimulated neglected T cells to maintain their metabolic rate at levels comparable to freshly isolated cells. The survival and trophic effects of IL-7 could be separated because IL-7 was able to promote up-regulation of Bcl-2 and maintain cell viability independent of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase and mammalian target of rapamycin activity but was unable to prevent cellular atrophy when phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase and mammalian target of rapamycin were inhibited. These data demonstrate that T cells require the continuous presence of extrinsic signals not only to survive but also to maintain their size, metabolic activity, and the ability to respond rapidly to mitogenic signals.
Rathmell, JC; Farkash, EA; Gao, W; Thompson, CB
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