The Role of Thymocytes in Regulating Thymic Epithelial Cell Growth and Function


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    The basic tenet underlying the present work and supported by recent studies is that there is a dialogue between developing thymocytes and thymic stromal cells. One direction in this dialogue, i. e. thymic stromal cell role in shaping thymocyte maturation, has been extensively studied. The other direction, thymocyte effect on stromal cell development and function, started to emerge only recently on the basis of in vivo observations in SCID and knockout mice. An in vitro approach to the analysis of this interaction may add substantial insight into the process, as demonstrated by the present work. We made use of a culture system of either murine thymic epithelial cells (TEC line) cultured alone or cocultured with thymocytes. Unstimulated thymocytes or their supernatant caused 40–80% inhibition of TEC cell proliferation, as measured by 3H‐thymidine incorporation. Cell cycle analysis by flow cytometry indicated that this inhibition can be attributed to reduction in G2/M phase cell number pari passu with an increase in Go/G1 cell number. This inhibitory effect was found to be partially mediated by TGF‐β produced by thymocytes. On the other hand, thymocytes augmented IL‐6 production by TEC cells in coculture, an effect which could not be reproduced by thymocyte culture supernatant and was not inhibited by thymocyte pretreatment with formaldehyde or emetine. Furthermore, antibodies against thymocyte adhesion molecules (CD2, LFA‐1) blocked the thymocyte‐induced IL‐6 secretion. IL‐6 was found to be an autocrine growth factor of TEC in culture, since a combination of anti IL‐6 and anti IL‐6 receptor antibodies caused 70% inhibition of TEC proliferation and addition of exogenous recombinant IL‐6 doubled the rate of proliferation. These results suggest that thymocytes regulate thymic epithelial cell growth by a complex set of inhibitory and enhancing signals mediated through either soluble factors or direct contact. The ultimate effect is dependent on the balance between different signals and may be different in different microenvironmental settings in vivo. In coculture in vitro the dominant effect was growth inhibition of the epithelial cells by thymocytes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)185-190
    Number of pages6
    JournalScandinavian Journal of Immunology
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Aug 1995


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