Recent evidence suggests that T cells expressing gamma/delta antigen receptors (T cell receptor [TCR]) are subject to positive selection during development. We have shown that T cells expressing a class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-specific gamma/delta TCR transgene (tg) are not positively selected in class I MHC-deficient, beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2m) gene knockout mice (tg+ beta 2m-). In this report, we examine phenotypic and functional parameters of gamma/delta positive selection in this transgenic model system. TCR-gamma/delta tg+ thymocytes of mature surface phenotype (heat stable antigen-, CD5hi) were found in beta 2m+ but not in beta 2m- mice. Moreover, subsets of tg+ thymocytes with the phenotype of activated T cells (interleukin [IL]2R+, CD44hi, or Mel-14lo) were also present only in the beta 2m+ mice. Cyclosporine A, which blocks positive selection of TCR-alpha/beta T cells, also inhibited gamma/delta tg+ T cell development. These results support the idea that positive selection of TCR-gamma/delta requires active TCR-mediated signal transduction. Whereas tg+ beta 2m+ thymocytes produced IL-2 and proliferated when stimulated by alloantigen, TCR engagement of tg+ beta 2m- thymocytes by antigen induced IL-2R expression but was uncoupled from the signal transduction pathway leading to IL-2 production and autocrine proliferation. Overall, these results demonstrate significant parallels between gamma/delta and alpha/beta lineage development, and suggest a general role for TCR signaling in thymic maturation.

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