The two major subsets of T lymphocytes in the peripheral immune system, the helper and cytotoxic T cells, are defined by their expression of either the CD4 or the CD8 glycoproteins, respectively. Expression of these molecules, which serve as coreceptors by interacting specifically with either MHC class II or class I molecules, also defines discrete stages of T cell development within the thymus. Thus, CD4+ and CD8+ single-positive (SP) thymocytes arise from common progenitor double positive (DP) cells that express both CD4 and CD8, during a process known as positive selection. The molecular mechanisms underlying the developmental choice toward the helper or cytotoxic lineage remain poorly understood. Because regulation of coreceptor gene expression appears to be coupled to the phenotypic choice of the differentiating T cell, it is likely that shared signaling pathways direct and transcription and the development of an uncommited DP thymocyte toward either the helper or cytotoxic lineage. Therefore, an understanding of how CD4 and CD8 expression is regulated will not only provide insights into transcriptional control mechanisms in T cells, but may also result in the identification of molecular factors that are involved in lineage choices during T cell development. In this review, we summarize recent progress that has been made toward an understanding of how and gene expression is regulated.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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