Exogenous IL-7 promotes the growth of CD3-CD4-CD8-CD44+CD25+/- precursor cells and blocks the differentiation pathway of TCR-alpha beta cells in fetal thymus organ culture.J Immunol. 1993 Apr 01; 150(7):2706-16.JI
Addition of human rIL-7 to fetal thymic organ culture started at day 13, 14, or 15 did not influence the number of cells generated during a 12-day culture period. However, the IL-7 treatment resulted in a preferential expansion of cells with a phenotype characteristic for cells at an early step of differentiation. The cells were CD4-CD8-CD3-CD2- and SCA-1+. Analysis of the coordinate expression of CD44 and CD25 on these cells showed that the majority of the cells were either CD44+CD25- or CD44+CD25intermediate. TCR-alpha beta cells were present but in a significantly lower number as compared to the control cultures. The cell number of TCR-gamma delta cells was increased. All these effects were moderate after 6 days, but unequivocal after 12 days of culture. Treatment of the fetal organ culture with mAb-neutralizing murine IL-7 resulted in an inhibition of the proliferation of the fetal thymocytes. No particular subset studied was preferentially inhibited. By using a model of reconstitution of 14-day embryonic thymuses depleted of thymocytes by deoxyguanosine and reconstituted with fetal day 13 liver cells and set up in organ culture with or without IL-7, it was shown in a clear cut way that IL-7 indeed promotes expansion of the early precursor cells and TCR-gamma delta cells, but prevents the generation of TCR-alpha beta cells. In addition, reconstitution experiments were set up in the presence of mAb-neutralizing murine IL-7. This treatment resulted in the inhibition of the growth of the fetal thymocytes without inhibiting preferentially a particular subset. These data indicate that IL-7 acts at an early step of T cell differentiation and plays a role to expand precursor cells, but prevents this population from additional differentiation towards the TCR-alpha beta pathways, whereas the differentiation towards TCR-gamma delta cells is not influenced or even enhanced.