Signal transduction in thymus development.

J. Sen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Reciprocal interaction between bone marrow derived lymphoid precursor cells and the thymic environment leads, through a series of developmental events, to the generation of a diverse repertoire of functional T-cells. During thymopoiesis fetal liver or bone marrow derived precursors enter the thymus and develop into mature T-cells in response to cues derived from the environment. The thymic micro-environment provides signals to the lymphoid cells as a result of cell-cell interactions, locally produced cytokines, chemokines and hormones. Developing thymocytes, in turn, influence the thymic stroma to form a supportive micro-environment. Stage-specific signals provide an exquisite balance between cellular proliferation, differentiation, cell survival and death. The result of this intricate signaling concert is the production of the requisite numbers of well educated self-restricted T-cells. Mature T-cells are exported to the peripheral lymphoid organs, where, upon encountering antigen, naive T-cells further mature into effector cells that provide cytolytic or T helper functions. While there are extra-thymic locations for T-cell development, majority of T-cells in peripheral lymphoid organs are thymus derived. In mice and humans, T-cells develop throughout life although the efficacy declines significantly with age. It is not clear if this is a direct consequence of deterioration of the thymic environment by involution, a paucity of bone marrow derived precursors, or both. However, new data clearly shows that the involuted adult thymus retains the ability to generate new T-cells. Recent advances have revealed many components of an exquisitely balanced signaling cascades that regulate cell fate, cellular proliferation and cell death in the thymus. This article describes fundamental features of developing thymocytes and the thymic micro-environment as they relate to the signaling pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-215
Number of pages19
JournalCellular and molecular biology (Noisy-le-Grand, France)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


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