Adhesion receptors are differentially expressed on developing thymocytes and epithelium in human thymus
Watt SM., Thomas JA., Edwards AJ., Murdoch SJ., Horton MA.
The thymic microenvironment consists of a network of interrelated cells of epithelial, fibroblastic, endothelial, and hemopoietic origin. Within this environment, the development of specific T-lymphocyte subpopulations partially depends on the selective interaction of T-cell precursors with such cells. Human thymic epithelial cell strains, generated with a defective retroviral vector containing simian virus 40 (SV40) large T antigen and the neomycin resistance gene or by transfection with an SV40 plasmid defective in the origin of replication, provide useful tools for understanding the mechanisms contributing to the control of T-cell maturation. Because interepithelial, epithelial-macrophage, and lymphocyte-epithelial cell interactions are important for thymocyte differentiation, the distribution of integrin and non-integrin adhesion receptors on these cells and on developing thymocytes in vivo and in vitro has been examined in detail. Our results indicate that the transformed human thymic epithelial cell strains express the common very late antigen (VLA)-β1 receptor and unique α chains VLA-2, VLA-3, and VLA-6. The cells are also positive for LFA-3 and ICAM-1 and weakly express β3, β4, and VNRα. They do not express the Leu-cellular adhesion molecules (CAM). This phenotypic profile on cultured thymic epithelium generally corresponds to the distribution of integrin and other receptor molecules on thymic epithelial cells in tissue sections. The majority of thymocytes also express the integrin VLA-β1 and -β2 chains as well as VLA-4, VLA-6, and LFA-1α(L). Three-color flow cytometric analyses show differential levels of expression of these adhesion receptors on human thymocyte subsets. Taken together with the immunohistochemical localization of extracellular matrix molecules, these studies suggest that both the distribution of receptor-ligand pairs and the level of expression of adhesion molecules may influence T-cell development within the thymus.