The onset of Fas expression parallels the acquisition of CD8 and CD4 in fetal and adult alpha beta thymocytes

Int Immunol. 1994 Jan;6(1):73-9. doi: 10.1093/intimm/6.1.73.


Fas is an apoptosis-related cell surface molecule whose defective transcription results in the lpr defect and autoimmunity. Recent analysis of Fas mRNA and protein expression in normal mice showed high expression in the thymus, on activated T cells, and on 5-10% of peripheral T cells. To investigate the role of Fas in the thymus, we analyzed its expression in fetal and adult thymocyte subsets. Fas was not expressed on fetal nor adult CD8-CD4- (double-negative, DN) T cell precursors. The earliest precursors that expressed low levels of FAS were the immediate precursors of DP thymocytes that bear the CD44-CD25-CD8loCD4loTCRlo phenotype. Other DN cells that expressed Fas appeared to be either non-T cells or mature alpha beta + DN thymocytes. The onset of Fas expression followed the onset of expression of CD8 and CD4 and Fas expression reached its peak in CD8+CD4+ double-positive (DP) thymocytes. Both single-positive (SP) subsets were largely Fas+ (CD8 SP < CD4 SP) but expressed lower levels of Fas than DP cells. However, a majority (> 60%) of the most mature HSA(lo) SP cells (2-5% of all SP thymocytes) were Fas- and the remainder of the HSA(lo) SP cells was Fas(lo). We observed two main differences between Fas expression on fetal versus adult thymocytes. First, up to 90% of fetal gamma delta + DN cells expressed high levels of Fas, in contrast to the very low expression (< 7% Fas+ cells) among adult gamma delta + thymocytes. Second, whereas virtually all adult DP cells were Fas+, up to 75% of fetal day 16 DP cells were Fas-.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Surface / biosynthesis*
  • CD4 Antigens / analysis
  • CD8 Antigens / analysis
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / embryology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*
  • fas Receptor


  • Antigens, Surface
  • CD4 Antigens
  • CD8 Antigens
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • fas Receptor