Human Peripheral CD4(+) Vδ1(+) γδT Cells Can Develop into αβT Cells

Front Immunol. 2014 Dec 17;5:645. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2014.00645. eCollection 2014.

Abstract

The lifelong generation of αβT cells enables us to continuously build immunity against pathogens and malignancies despite the loss of thymic function with age. Homeostatic proliferation of post-thymic naïve and memory T cells and their transition into effector and long-lived memory cells balance the decreasing output of naïve T cells, and recent research suggests that also αβT-cell development independent from the thymus may occur. However, the sites and mechanisms of extrathymic T-cell development are not yet understood in detail. γδT cells represent a small fraction of the overall T-cell pool, and are endowed with tremendous phenotypic and functional plasticity. γδT cells that express the Vδ1 gene segment are a minor population in human peripheral blood but predominate in epithelial (and inflamed) tissues. Here, we characterize a CD4(+) peripheral Vδ1(+) γδT-cell subpopulation that expresses stem-cell and progenitor markers and is able to develop into functional αβT cells ex vivo in a simple culture system and in vivo. The route taken by this process resembles thymic T-cell development. However, it involves the re-organization of the Vδ1(+) γδTCR into the αβTCR as a consequence of TCR-γ chain downregulation and the expression of surface Vδ1(+)Vβ(+) TCR components, which we believe function as surrogate pre-TCR. This transdifferentiation process is readily detectable in vivo in inflamed tissue. Our study provides a conceptual framework for extrathymic T-cell development and opens up a new vista in immunology that requires adaptive immune responses in infection, autoimmunity, and cancer to be reconsidered.

Keywords: T-cell development; Vδ1+ γδT cells; extrathymic T-cell development; extrathymic T-cell progenitor; hematopoietic progenitor cell; inflammation; δβ heterodimer.