During lymphocyte development, cell-fate decisions are determined by a myriad of signals produced by the micro- environment of the thymus and the bone marrow. These yet to be fully defined developmental cues regulate stage-specific gene expression, and the extraordinarily well-characterized stages of T and B cell development have provided attractive model systems for studying regulation of cellular differentiation. In particular, studies on the contribution of both antigen receptors and cytokine receptors to lymphoid development have illuminated essential signalling pathways in early T and B cells. Here, we review investigations supporting an obligatory role for the IL-7 receptor pathway in early T cell development. IL-7 is produced by both thymus and bone marrow stromal cells, and its potential contribution to survival, differentiation and proliferation of pro-T cells is discussed. We also address the contribution of the pre-T cell receptor (pre-TCR) to differentiation past the pro-T cell stage, and recent advances in deciphering the composition and function of the pre-TCR complex are discussed. Finally, we suggest future directions in this field that may serve to reveal whether and how signals initiated by the cytokine receptors and pre-TCR may intersect, and to define which down-stream molecular events are regulated by these receptors.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.