Interactions between self-MHC molecules and T cells are necessary for the proper development of mature T cells, in part due to an absolute requirement for self-MHC-TCR interactions. Recently, we showed that CD4-mediated interactions also participate in shaping the T cell repertoire during thymic maturation. We now examine the possible role of the CD8 molecule during in vivo T cell development. Our results demonstrate that perinatal thymi treated with intact anti-CD8 mAb fail to generate CD8 single-positive T cells, while the generation of the other main phenotypes remains unchanged. Most importantly, the use of F(ab')2 anti-CD8 mAb fragments gave identical results, i.e., lack of generation of CD4-/CD8+ cells, with no effect on the generation of CD4+/CD8+. Furthermore, selective blocking of one CD8 allele with F(ab')2 mAbs in F1 mice expressing both CD8 alleles did not interfere with the development of CD4-/CD8+ cells, demonstrating that the absence of CD8+ T cells in homozygous mice is not due to depletion, but rather is caused by a lack of positive selection. This is most likely attributable to a deficient CD8-MHC class I interaction. Our findings strongly advocate that CD8 molecules are vital to the selection process that leads to the development of mature single-positive CD8 T cells.

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