γδ T lymphocytes play an important early role in the defense against pathogens. Their function is terminated by acquisition of susceptibility to CD95-triggered apoptosis. Here we show that the regulation of this process depends on the activity of the endothelial NO synthase expressed by γδ T lymphocytes, which is modulated in an activation-dependent way. The effects of nitric oxide thus generated, mediated via cGMP generation, are exerted at at least two sites along the CD95 signaling cascade: one at, or upstream, and the other downstream of ceramide generation. At either site, nitric oxide/cGMP action is sufficient for protection from apoptosis. The effect of NO is selective for apoptosis induced by CD95 cross-linking, since it does not affect apoptotic program triggered by other stimuli. The evidence here reported demonstrates a new physiological role for nitric oxide, acting as a survival factor for T lymphocytes.
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