Expression of 4-1BB and 4-1BBL in thymocytes during thymus regeneration.Exp Mol Med. 2009 Dec 31; 41(12):896-911.EM
4-1BB, a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) superfamily, is a major costimulatory receptor that is rapidly expressed on the surface of CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells after antigen- or mitogen-induced activation. The interaction of 4-1BB with 4-1BBL regulates immunity and promotes the survival and expansion of activated T cells. In this study, the expression of 4-1BB and 4-1BBL was examined during regeneration of the murine thymus following acute cyclophosphamide- induced involution. Four-color flow cytometry showed that 4-1BB and 4-1BBL were present in the normal thymus and were preferentially expressed in the regenerating thymus, mainly in CD4(+)CD8(+) double-positive (DP) thymocytes. Furthermore, the CD4(lo)CD8(lo), CD4(+)CD8(lo) and CD4(lo)CD8(+) thymocyte subsets, representing stages of thymocyte differentiation intermediate between DP and single-positive (SP) thymocytes, also expressed 4-1BB and 4-1BBL during thymus regeneration but to a lesser degree. Interestingly, the 4-1BB and 4-1BBL positive cells among the CD4(+)CD8(+) DP thymocytes present during thymus regeneration were TCR(hi) and CD69(+) unlike the corresponding controls. Moreover, the 4-1BB and 4-1BBL positive cells among the intermediate subsets present during thymus regeneration also exhibited TCR(hi/int+) and CD69(+/int) phenotypes, indicating that 4-1BB and 4-1BBL are predominantly expressed by the positively selected population of the CD4(+)CD8(+) DP and the intermediate thymocytes during thymus regeneration. RT-PCR and Western blot analyses confirmed the presence and elevated levels of 4-1BB and 4-1BBL mRNA and protein in thymocytes during thymus regeneration. We also found that the interaction of 4-1BB with 4-1BBL promoted thymocyte adhesion to thymic epithelial cells. Our results suggest that 4-1BB and 4-1BBL participate in T lymphopoiesis associated with positive selection during recovery from acute thymic involution.