The aim of this study was to explore whether Thy-1, like other members of the Ig-like superfamily (e.g., CD2 and neural cell adhesion molecule), participates in cell-cell adhesion. This was investigated by measuring the binding of Thy-1+ probe cells (thymocytes or AKR1 T lymphoma cells) to Thy-1- cloned mouse thymic epithelial (MTE) cells using a quantitative cell adhesion assay. The results were as follows: (a) the thymo-epithelial cell interaction was found to be inhibitable (by 25-40%) by soluble Thy-1 molecules purified from phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C-treated mouse thymocytes as well as by Fab' fragments of a Thy-1-specific mAb; (b) the binding of the Thy-1- AKR1 (Thy-1-d) mutant to MTE cells was found to be reduced (by 50%) as compared with that of the wild type T lymphoma; (c) the Thy-1-mediated adhesion pathway did not require Ca2+ and promoted the initial thymo-epithelial binding measured at 4 degrees C. These data provide the first direct evidence of an adhesive function of Thy-1 and suggest that this molecule, in addition to its T cell triggering properties, might play a role during the early T cell maturation by promoting thymocyte adhesion to thymic stroma.

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