During thymus development CD4+ CD8+ precursor cells differentiate into mature CD4+ and CD8+ T cells expressing T cell receptors (TCR) that recognize foreign antigens in association with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II or I molecules, respectively. Studies with TCR transgenic mice have shown that the accumulation of mature CD4+ and CD8+ thymocytes is strongly skewed by the MHC restriction specificity of the TCR, thus suggesting that commitment of CD4+ CD8+ precursors to the CD4 or CD8 lineage is a direct consequence of TCR/MHC interactions. However, we show here that CD4+ cells expressing an inappropriate (MHC class I-specific) TCR appear transiently in the neonatal thymus of TCR transgenic mice and can also be found in the periphery of adult TCR transgenic recombination-deficient SCID mice. These data argue that the early stages of CD4 and CD8 lineage development in the thymus are (at least in part) controlled by homeostatic mechanisms independent of appropriate TCR/MHC interactions.

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