Identification of checkpoints in human T-cell development using severe combined immunodeficiency stem cells

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2016 Feb;137(2):517-526.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2015.08.022. Epub 2015 Oct 4.


Background: Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) represents congenital disorders characterized by a deficiency of T cells caused by arrested development in the thymus. Yet the nature of these developmental blocks has remained elusive because of the difficulty of taking thymic biopsy specimens from affected children.

Objective: We sought to identify the stages of arrest in human T-cell development caused by various major types of SCID.

Methods: We performed transplantation of SCID CD34(+) bone marrow stem/progenitor cells into an optimized NSG xenograft mouse model, followed by detailed phenotypic and molecular characterization using flow cytometry, immunoglobulin and T-cell receptor spectratyping, and deep sequencing of immunoglobulin heavy chain (IGH) and T-cell receptor δ (TRD) loci.

Results: Arrests in T-cell development caused by mutations in IL-7 receptor α (IL7RA) and IL-2 receptor γ (IL2RG) were observed at the most immature thymocytes much earlier than expected based on gene expression profiling of human thymocyte subsets and studies with corresponding mouse mutants. T-cell receptor rearrangements were functionally required at the CD4(-)CD8(-)CD7(+)CD5(+) stage given the developmental block and extent of rearrangements in mice transplanted with Artemis-SCID cells. The xenograft model used is not informative for adenosine deaminase-SCID, whereas hypomorphic mutations lead to less severe arrests in development.

Conclusion: Transplanting CD34(+) stem cells from patients with SCID into a xenograft mouse model provides previously unattainable insight into human T-cell development and functionally identifies the arrest in thymic development caused by several SCID mutations.

Keywords: Artemis; B-cell development; IL2RG; IL7RA; NSG; SCID; T-cell development; adenosine deaminase; thymus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Surface / metabolism
  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • B-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation* / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation* / immunology
  • Female
  • Gene Rearrangement
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Heterografts
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin Heavy Chains / genetics
  • Immunophenotyping
  • Lymphoid Progenitor Cells / cytology
  • Lymphoid Progenitor Cells / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / genetics
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency / etiology*
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Thymus Gland / embryology


  • Antigens, Surface
  • Immunoglobulin Heavy Chains
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell