Scientific reports 2017 07 117(1) 5068 doi 10.1038/s41598-017-05182-7
The ordered migration of immature thymocytes through thymic microenvironments generates both adaptive MHC restricted αβT-cells and innate CD1d-restricted iNKT-cells. While several chemokine receptors and ligands control multiple stages of this process, their involvement during early thymocyte development often precludes direct analysis of potential roles during later developmental stages. For example, because of early lethality of CXCR4(-/-) mice, and stage-specific requirements for CXCR4 in thymus colonisation and pre-TCR mediated selection, its role in thymic positive selection is unclear. Here we have examined CXCR4-CXCL12 interactions during the maturation of CD4(+)CD8(+) thymocytes, including downstream stages of iNKT and αβT-cell development. We show CXCL12 expression is a common feature of cortical thymic epithelial cells, indicating widespread availability throughout the cortex. Moreover, CXCR4 expression by CD4(+)CD8(+) pre-selection thymocytes is progressively downregulated following both MHC and CD1d-restricted thymic selection events. However, using CD4(Cre)-mediated deletion to bypass its involvement in CD4(-)CD8(-) thymocyte development, we show CXCR4 is dispensable for the maintenance and intrathymic positioning of CD4(+)CD8(+) thymocytes, and their ability to generate mature αβT-cells and CD1d-restricted iNKT-cells. Collectively, our data define dynamic changes in CXCR4 expression as a marker for intrathymic selection events, and show its role in T-cell development is restricted to pre-CD4(+)CD8(+) stages.