The mature T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire is established on the basis of discriminative events involving binding of the TCR alpha and beta chains and CD4 or CD8 on immature thymocytes to major histocompatibility complex (MHC)/self-peptide complexes expressed in the thymus. To ask whether the strength of the interaction between a CD8/TCR complex and a MHC/self-peptide ligand plays a pivotal role in deciding the fate of a maturing thymocyte, we generated lines of transgenic mice that express distinct and elevated levels of CD8 alpha, approximately 2, 3, and 6-10 times. These lines were then crossed to a transgenic line expressing the class I-restricted TCR, 2C. We found that thymocytes expressing the 2C TCR in combination with the highest levels of CD8 were deleted on the H-2 Kb background that is normally positively selecting for the 2C TCR. In contrast, thymocytes coexpressing the 2C TCR and moderately elevated levels of CD8 were selected for maturation. These results demonstrate directly that CD8 levels can affect the developmental fate of a maturing thymocyte and argue in support of an affinity model for thymocyte selection.

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