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decidual nk cells; recurrent spontaneous-abortion; natural-killer-cells;peripheral-blood; thymic atrophy; mast-cells; lymphatic vessels; female rats; in-vivo;bacterial stimulation


The ability of the thymus gland to convert bone marrow-derived progenitor cells into single positive (SP) T-cells is well known. In this review we present evidence that the thymus, in addition to producing SP T-cells, also has a pathway for the production of double negative (DN) T-cells. The existence of this pathway was noted during our examination of relevant literature to determine the cause of sex steroid-induced thymocyte loss. In conducting this search our objective was to answer the question of whether thymocyte loss is the end product of a typical interaction between the reproductive and immune systems, or evidence that the two systems are incompatible. We can now report that "thymocyte loss" is a normal process that occurs during the production of DN T-cells. The DN T-cell pathway is unique in that it is mediated by thymic mast cells, and becomes functional following puberty. Sex steroids initiate the development of the pathway by binding to an estrogen receptor alpha located in the outer membrane of the mast cells, causing their activation. This results in their uptake of extracellular calcium, and the production and subsequent release of histamine and serotonin. Lymphatic vessels, located in the subcapsular region of the thymus, respond to the two vasodilators by undergoing a substantial and preferential uptake of gamma/delta and alpha/beta DN T-cells. These T-cells exit the thymus via efferent lymphatic vessels and enter the lymphatic system.

The DN pathway is responsible for the production of three subsets of gamma/delta DN T-cells and one subset of alpha/beta DN T-cells. In postpubertal animals approximately 35 % of total thymocytes exit the thymus as DN T-cells, regardless of sex. In pregnant females, their levels undergo a dramatic increase. Gamma/delta DN T-cells produce cytokines that are essential for the maintenance of pregnancy.

Publisher Attribution

Chapman, J. C., Chapman, F. M., & Michael, S. D. (2015). The production of alpha/beta and gamma/delta double negative (DN) T-cells and their role in the maintenance of pregnancy. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology,13(1), 1.

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