The lymphopenia mutation of the BB rat causes inappropriate apoptosis of mature thymocytes

Eur J Immunol. 1999 Jun;29(6):1832-41. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1521-4141(199906)29:06<1832::AID-IMMU1832>3.0.CO;2-F.


BB rats develop autoimmune diabetes mellitus at a high frequency. A key factor in the development of the disease is an autosomal recessive mutation determining peripheral T cell lymphocytopenia. Previous studies have suggested that the lymphopenia could be caused by increased cell death. Here we demonstrate that the lyp mutation dramatically reduces the in vitro lifespan of the TCRhi single-positive thymocytes and peripheral T cells, without abolishing their capacity to proliferate. The reduced lifespan is due to an increased rate of apoptosis, and is detected in single-positive thymocytes displaying characteristics of cells which have undergone positive selection. The cell death defect does not affect the in vitro lifespan of peripheral B cells. Interestingly, stimulation can rescue peripheral lyp/lyp T cells from immediate cell death. We propose that the lymphopenia mutation prevents the accumulation of a normal T cell pool, including regulatory subsets, without preventing the activation and proliferation of reactive T cells, thereby creating conditions appropriate for the development of uncontrolled autoimmune responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Congenic
  • Apoptosis / genetics*
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • Autoimmunity / genetics
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Cell Survival / genetics
  • Cell Survival / immunology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / genetics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / pathology
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Lymphopenia / genetics*
  • Lymphopenia / immunology
  • Lymphopenia / pathology*
  • Mutation*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred BB
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / genetics
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology*


  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell