Cultivation of CD4-CD8- double negative (DN) mouse thymocytes and splenocytes with recombinant interleukin 2 (IL2) in the absence of other stimulation results in the generation of DN-CD3/TCR+CD16+NK1.1+B220+ large granular lymphocytes (LGL). Purified DN alpha-beta TCR+ thymocytes and splenocytes are CD16+IL2R alpha-IL2R beta+NK1.1+B220-CD5high. These cells are unique in that they express both CD16 and T cell receptor (TCR) which are usually mutually exclusive. In addition, they express the natural killer (NK) marker, NK1.1. Cultivation of these cells with IL2 for several days results in the generation of DN alpha-beta TCR+CD16+NK1.1+B220+CD5- LGL, suggesting that DN alpha-beta TCR+ cells in thymus and spleen are the precursors of the DN LGL reported previously. DN gamma-delta TCR+CD16-NK1.1-B220-CD5high thymocytes and splenocytes also give rise to DN gamma-delta TCR+CD16+NK1.1+B220+CD5- LGL which, as shown previously with DN alpha-beta TCR+ LGL cells, are cytotoxic against NK-sensitive YAC-1 cells. Cytotoxic activity is also induced through either CD16 or the gamma-delta TCR. DN alpha-beta TCR+ and DN gamma-delta TCR+ LGL cells are thus similar in phenotype to TCR- NK cells. DN alpha-beta TCR+ thymocytes express low levels of the gamma subunit of the high affinity immunoglobulin E receptor (Fc epsilon RI gamma) molecule, an essential component of CD16 expression. Fc epsilon RI gamma expression is greatly enhanced after cultivation with IL2, resulting in a higher surface expression of CD16. In contrast to DN alpha-beta TCR+ thymocytes, DN gamma-delta TCR+ thymocytes do not express detectable CD16 or Fc epsilon RI gamma mRNA but expression of both is induced by cultivation with IL2, leading to the expression of CD16 on the surface. Whereas CD16 molecules on both DN alpha-beta TCR+ and DN gamma-delta TCR+ LGL are associated with only Fc epsilon RI gamma homodimers, the TCR on these cells are associated with an Fc epsilon RI gamma homodimer and/or CD3 zeta-Fc epsilon RI gamma heterodimers. These results demonstrate that the Fc epsilon RI gamma subunit is a component of the TCR in a fraction of T lineage cells.

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