High-sequence diversity and structural conservation in the human T-cell receptor β junctional region during thymic development

Anni Tuulasvaara, Julie Baussand, Pia Laine, Lars Paulin, Jukka Salminen, Petri Auvinen, Guy Gorochov, T Petteri Arstila
European Journal of Immunology 2013, 43 (8): 2185-93
The T-cell repertoire depends on intrathymic genetic rearrangement events in the T-cell receptor (TCR) locus, followed by positive and negative selection. The repertoire thus generated is highly diverse, but recent data indicate that the recombination of gene segments is less stochastic than previously suggested. Very little is known of the junctional complementarity determining region 3 (CDR3), which is to a large degree not germline encoded. We have analyzed the development of the human TCR β CDR3 repertoire, from the nonselected CD4(+) CD8(+) CD3(-) cells up to the fully selected CD4(+) CD8(-) thymocytes. In addition to spectratyping, a fraction of the CDR3 repertoire was sequenced and a structural in silico analysis of the CDR3 loop characteristics performed. Our data show that the thymic TCR repertoire is extremely diverse, and the effect of the selection events can be detected as a measurable loss of polyclonality in the CDR3 loop. However, the main physicochemical features of the CDR3 loop were found already at the nonselected repertoire and showed no progressive changes during the selection. Thus, the main structural characteristics of the CDR3 loop were already determined by the recombination process and not significantly affected by the extensive thymocyte death associated with selection in the thymus.

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