In the mouse thymus, invariant γδ T cells are generated at well-defined times during development and acquire effector functions before exiting the thymus. However, whether such thymic programming and age-dependent generation of invariant γδ T cells occur in humans is not known. Here we found that, unlike postnatal γδ thymocytes, human fetal γδ thymocytes were functionally programmed (e.g., IFNγ, granzymes) and expressed low levels of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase (TdT). This low level of TdT resulted in a low number of N nucleotide insertions in the complementarity-determining region-3 (CDR3) of their TCR repertoire, allowing the usage of short homology repeats within the germline-encoded VDJ segments to generate invariant/public cytomegalovirus-reactive CDR3 sequences (TRGV8-TRJP1-CATWDTTGWFKIF, TRDV2-TRDD3-CACDTGGY, and TRDV1-TRDD3-CALGELGD). Furthermore, both the generation of invariant TCRs and the intrathymic acquisition of effector functions were due to an intrinsic property of fetal hematopoietic stem and precursor cells (HSPCs) caused by high expression of the RNA-binding protein Lin28b. In conclusion, our data indicate that the human fetal thymus generates, in an HSPC/Lin28b-dependent manner, invariant γδ T cells with programmed effector functions.

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