CTLA-4, a homologue of CD28, is a negative regulator of T cell activation in the periphery and is transiently expressed on the cell surface after T cell activation. However, the role of CTLA-4 in T cell activation in the thymus is not clear. This investigation was initiated to determine the role of CTLA-4 in the activation of CD4+CD8+ double-positive (DP) and CD4+CD8- and CD4-CD8+ single-positive (SP) thymocytes using fetal thymic organ cultures (FTOC) of MHC class II-restricted, OVA323-339-restricted TCR transgenic mice (DO11.10). We found that treatment of the FTOC with anti-CTLA-4-blocking Ab during activation with OVA323-339 increased the proportion and number of DP thymocytes, but decreased the proportion and number of SP thymocytes compared with OVA323-339-stimulated FTOC without anti-CTLA-4 Ab treatment. In addition, anti-CTLA-4 Ab treatment inhibited OVA 323-339-induced expression of the early activation marker, CD69, in DP thymocytes, but increased CD69 in SP thymocytes. Similarly, CTLA-4 blockage decreased phosphorylation of ERK in DP thymocytes by Ag-specific TCR engagement, but increased phosphorylation of ERK in SP thymocytes. CTLA-4 blockage inhibited deletion of DP thymocytes treated with a high dose of OVA 323-339, whereas CTLA-4 blockage did not inhibit deletion of DP thymocytes treated with a low dose of OVA323-339. We conclude that CTLA-4 positively regulates the activation of DP thymocytes, resulting in their deletion, whereas blocking CTLA-4 suppresses the activation of DP thymocytes, leading to inhibition of DP thymocyte deletion. In contrast, CTLA-4 negatively regulates the activation of SP thymocytes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy