Signaling Life and Death in the Thymus: Timing Is Everything

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Science  21 Mar 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5614, pp. 1859-1863
DOI: 10.1126/science.1067833

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T lymphocytes are generated in the thymus, where developing thymocytes must accept one of two fates: They either differentiate or they die. These fates are chiefly determined by signals that originate from the T cell receptor (TCR), a single receptor complex with a remarkable capacity to decide between distinct cell fates. This review explores TCR signaling in thymocytes and focuses on the kinetic aspects of ligand binding, coreceptor involvement, protein phosphorylation, and mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activation. Understanding the logic of TCR signaling may eventually explain how thymocytes and T cells distinguish self from nonself, a phenomenon that has fascinated immunologists for 50 years.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: guy.werlen{at} (G.W.), ed.palmer{at} (E.P.)

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