Clinical and experimental immunology

Developmental regulation of p53-dependent radiation-induced thymocyte apoptosis in mice.

PMID 24635132


The production of T cell receptor αβ(+) (TCRαβ(+) ) T lymphocytes in the thymus is a tightly regulated process that can be monitored by the regulated expression of several surface molecules, including CD4, CD8, cKit, CD25 and the TCR itself, after TCR genes have been assembled from discrete V, D (for TCR-β) and J gene segments by a site-directed genetic recombination. Thymocyte differentiation is the result of a delicate balance between cell death and survival: developing thymocytes die unless they receive a positive signal to proceed to the next stage. This equilibrium is altered in response to various physiological or physical stresses such as ionizing radiation, which induces a massive p53-dependent apoptosis of CD4(+) CD8(+) double-positive (DP) thymocytes. Interestingly, these cells are actively rearranging their TCR-α chain genes. To unravel an eventual link between V(D)J recombination activity and thymocyte radio-sensitivity, we analysed the dynamics of thymocyte apoptosis and regeneration following exposure of wild-type and p53-deficient mice to different doses of γ-radiation. p53-dependent radio-sensitivity was already found to be high in immature CD4(-) CD8(-) (double-negative, DN) cKit(+) CD25(+) thymocytes, where TCR-β gene rearrangement is initiated. However, TCR-αβ(-) CD8(+) immature single-positive thymocytes, an actively cycling intermediate population between the DN and DP stages, are the most radio-sensitive cells in the thymus, even though their apoptosis is only partially p53-dependent. Within the DP population, TCR-αβ(+) thymocytes that completed TCR-α gene recombination are more radio-resistant than their TCR-αβ(-) progenitors. Finally, we found no correlation between p53 activation and thymocyte sensitivity to radiation-induced apoptosis.