Estimating thymic function through quantification of T-cell receptor excision circles

Methods Mol Biol. 2007;380:197-213. doi: 10.1007/978-1-59745-395-0_12.


Analysis of immune reconstitution is of major importance in clinical settings such as following bone marrow transplantation or during anti-retroviral treatment of HIV-infected patients. In these patients, thymic function is essential for the reconstitution of a diversified T-cell receptor (TCR) repertoire. During thymopoiesis, several genetic rearrangements lead to the generation of fully functional TCR. By-products of these processes, the T-cell receptor excision circles (TRECs), are present in cells exported from the thymus but do not replicate during mitosis; they can thus be used as molecular markers for recent thymic emigrants. We demonstrate how thymic function can be assessed in a quantitative and noninvasive fashion in humans by estimating intrathymic precursor T-cell proliferation through the quantification of distinct TREC molecules in peripheral blood cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Gene Rearrangement, T-Lymphocyte / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / analysis
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / chemistry
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / genetics*
  • T-Lymphocytes / chemistry
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Thymus Gland / chemistry
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*


  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell