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We have reported previously that mice carrying > 30 copies of the human CD3 epsilon transgene completely lose their T lymphocytes and NK cells (36). Here we demonstrate by immunohistology that in the most severely immunodeficient mouse, tg epsilon 26, the thymus is very small, has sizeable vacuoles and does not contain recognizable T lymphocytes except for a small percentage of Thy-1+ cells and B cells. Cell surface phenotyping and TCR alpha and -beta rearrangement studies confirm that the arrest in T lymphocyte development precedes the arrest in rag-1null, rag-2null and TCR beta nuli mice. Since the T cell progenitors in which the arrest occurred were absent in the transgenic mice, indirect approaches were taken to examine the causes of the block in T cell development. Analyses of 12 independently established mutant mouse lines, generated with five different transgenic constructs, revealed that the severity of the abrogation in T cell development was dependent on the number of copies of transgenes. Since the number of transgene copies generally correlated with the levels of expression of the transgenic CD3 epsilon proteins, we concluded that over-expression of the CD3 epsilon protein was the likely cause of the block in T lymphocyte development. The T cell immunodeficiency was caused by either the human or the murine CD3 epsilon protein. Since transgene coded mRNAs were found in significantly higher quantities than endogenous CD3 epsilon mRNAs in fetal thymi on days 13 and 14 of gestation, over-expression took place very early in development, probably prematurely. Over-expression of the CD3 epsilon transgene in thymocyte precursors may therefore affect T lymphocyte development in the absence of TCR and possibly in the absence of the other CD3 proteins. More importantly, over-expression of the CD3 epsilon protein in thymocytes of mice with a low copy number of transgenes had a significant effect on late thymic development. Over-expression of the CD3 epsilon protein in immature thymocytes mimicked the effects caused by exposure of CD4- CD8- thymocytes to anti-CD3 epsilon treatment: apoptosis and lack of TCR beta expression. We therefore speculate that in the homozygous tg epsilon 26 animals the arrest in T cell development was caused by excessive signal transduction events rather than by a toxic effect of the transgenic protein.

Original publication




Journal article


Int Immunol

Publication Date





435 - 448


Amino Acid Sequence, Animals, Base Sequence, CD3 Complex, Cell Differentiation, DNA-Binding Proteins, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Gene Rearrangement, beta-Chain T-Cell Antigen Receptor, Gestational Age, Homeodomain Proteins, Humans, Immunologic Deficiency Syndromes, Immunophenotyping, Mice, Mice, Transgenic, Molecular Sequence Data, Nuclear Proteins, Proteins, Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta, T-Lymphocyte Subsets, Thymus Gland