The selection of lymphocytes in the thymus

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The thymus is the main site of T cell maturation. Upon seeding, thymus T cell precursors undergo a complex series of maturational events that involve antigen receptor gene assembly by somatic recombination of gene segments. This process is largely stochastic, therefore a mechanism must exist to shape this antigen receptor repertoire in order to achieve both self restriction (defined as the capacity of a T cell to recognise a peptide antigen in the context of self major histocompatibility complex molecules and self tolerance. This outcome is ensured via selection processes that promote the expansion of those thymocytes that see antigen(s) only in the context of self major histocompatibility gene products. In contrast, those cells that do not fulfill these recognition requirements or that recognise auto antigens with high affinity are deleted. This review will focus on the development of the major subset of T cells (i.e. those equipped with a T cell receptor αβ) and on the molecular mechanisms by which a T cell with an apparently unchanging antigen receptor is alternately positively and negatively selected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-52
Number of pages13
JournalFORUM - Trends in Experimental and Clinical Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1995


  • Repertoire shaping
  • T cell development
  • Thymic selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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