Using a transgenic mouse model we show that increased intrathymic expression of interleukin 4 (IL-4) significantly perturbs the development of thymocytes. Transgenic double-positive (CD4+CD8+) thymocytes, which are present in dramatically reduced numbers, exhibit increased T cell receptor (TCR) expression and increased mobilization of calcium mediated by these receptors. In contrast, transgenic single-positive (CD4+CD8- and CD4-CD8+) thymocytes and peripheral T cells exhibit decreased TCR-mediated calcium mobilization. The development of CD4-CD8+ thymocytes is significantly perturbed by IL-4 expressed in vivo; only peripheral CD4+ T cells are found in significant numbers in transgenic mice, while CD4-CD8+ thymocytes are present in increased numbers, apparently because of their failure to emigrate to the periphery. In contrast to these selective effects on T cell development, no significant differences in the numbers of B cells or mast cells, or in the plasma levels of IgE and IgG1 are observed between transgenic and control mice. These observations suggest that IL-4 in vivo exerts its major effects locally rather than systemically, even when its expression is constitutively increased.

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