CD45 is a protein tyrosine phosphatase involved in T and B cell signaling. While peripheral T cells switch CD45 isoforms upon activation, events leading to exon switching during T cell development in the thymus have not been determined. The expression of high molecular weight isoforms of CD45 was examined on thymocytes from nontransgenic and T cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice. All thymocytes from nontransgenic mice were CD45RB+ as assessed by staining with MB23G2, an anti-CD45RB-specific monoclonal antibody. Interestingly, there was a small population (1-3%) of thymocytes that displayed a higher intensity of staining with MB23G2, CD45RBhigh. CD45RBhigh thymocytes were found in all subsets defined by CD4 and CD8 expression and were also present within the TCR-alpha/beta high population. To analyze whether or not CD45 expression correlated with thymic selection events, expression of CD45RBhigh and a second isoform, CD45RA, was examined on thymocytes from H-Y and 2C TCR transgenic mice and found to correlate with positive and negative selection events but did not occur in nonselecting backgrounds. CD45RA and CD45RBhigh upregulation was also not observed in transgenic mice backcrossed into CD8-deficient mice, a scenario in which there is no positive selection of transgene-expressing thymocytes. These data suggest that modulation of CD45 isoform expression may be involved in thymic selection events.

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