Thymic and peripheral apoptosis of antigen‐specific T cells might cooperate in establishing self tolerance

Luciano D'Adamio, Katherine M. Awad, Ellis L. Reinherz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Scopus citations


Aside from CD4+CD8+ double‐positive (DP) thymocytes, the subpopulations of T lineage cells affected by negative selection are unknown. To address whether this process occurs in more mature cell types, we have compared the responses of purified single‐positive (SP) murine thymocytes and peripheral T cells to the superantigen staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) utilizing as antigen‐presenting cells (APC) a fibroblast cell line expressing transfected I‐Ek class II molecules. Whereas ∽ 70% of SEB‐reactive SP thymocytes, either CD4+ or CD8+, undergo programmed cell death (apoptosis) and, therefore, negative selection, CD4+ and CD8+ antigen‐specific peripheral T cells are predominantly activated and proliferate to APC+SEB. Thus, mature thymocytes and peripheral T cells, with identical patterns and levels of expression of CD4, CD8 and T cell receptor (TCR), are programmed to elicit different responses followingTCR stimulation. Unexpectedly, however activation of peripheral T cells was preceded by deletion of a large fraction of Vβ8+ T lymphocytes (SEB specific). This surprising phenomenon was also observed in in vivo studies: in fact, administration of SEB to adult mice resulted in depletion of the majority of antigen‐specific T cells from the peripheral lymphoid tissues analyzed (lymph nodes and spleen). This depletion is the consequence of deletion as indicated by program cell death of Vβ8+ T cells and is followed by proliferation of the remaining SEB‐reactive T cells. Clonal elimination of peripheral T cells may represent a mechanism by which tolerance to self antigens never expressed in and/or exported to the thymus is achieved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)747-753
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Journal of Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1993


  • Apoptosis
  • Mature thymocytes
  • Peripheral deletion
  • Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB)
  • T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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