Thymocytes must bind major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins on thymic epithelial cells in order to mature into either CD8+ cytotoxic T cells or CD4+ helper T cells. Thymic precursors express both CD8 and CD4, and it has been suggested that the intracellular signals generated by CD8 or CD4 binding to class I or II MHC, respectively, might influence the fate of uncommitted cells. Here we test the notion that intracellular signaling by CD4 directs the development of thymocytes to a CD4 lineage. A hybrid protein consisting of the CD8 extracellular and transmembrane domains and the cytoplasmic domain of CD4 (CD884) should bind class I MHC but deliver a CD4 intracellular signal. We find that expression of a hybrid CD884 protein in thymocytes of transgenic mice leads to the development of large numbers of class I MHC-specific, CD4 lineage T cells. We discuss these results in terms of current models for CD4 and CD8 lineage commitment.

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