Epithelial-thymocyte interactions in human thymus.
Our data demonstrate that the epithelial component of the human thymic microenvironment is not an inert cell type, but rather is capable of being directly involved in the promotion of both early and late stages of T-cell maturation. Data from our laboratory [54,69], together with the work of Plunkett et al.  and Shaw et al.  suggest that an endogenous ligand for the CD2 molecule in humans is the LFA-3 molecule. Using an SV40 transformed human thymic epithelial cell line of subcapsular cortical origin, Mizutani et al. have confirmed that thymic epithelial cells bind thymocytes via a CD2/LFA-3 interaction . The data reviewed in this paper suggest that within the thymus one endogenous ligand for the alternative pathway of thymocyte activation via the CD2 molecule is the LFA-3 molecule on TE cells. Following thymocyte binding to TE cells, immature thymocytes are directly activated to proliferate, and their response to both IL1 and IL2 is augmented. Also, following TE-thymocyte binding, TE-IL1 secretion is augmented and TE cell MHC class II antigen expression is induced. Moreover, while undergoing activation, thymocytes appear to be able to modulate their microenvironment milieu of MHC antigens and IL1. Further analysis of the sequelae of TE-thymocyte interactions using phenotypic characterization of thymocytes with anti-T-cell MoAbs, coupled with molecular analysis of thymocyte T-cell receptor genes, should allow for the determination of the precise sequential stages that immature T cells undergo enroute to functional maturity. Understanding these steps in T-cell maturation will be critical to our understanding of the events that transpire in the genesis of autoimmune, lymphoproliferative, and immunodeficiency diseases.
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