Thymocytes differentiate in the thymic microenvironment into immunocompetent T cell through the interaction with a variety of accessory cells, including thymic epithelial cells (TEC). TEC plays an important role in the selection process presenting self antigens in association with major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules to the maturing T cells. The T cell receptor recognizes the self antigen-MHC complex, but other surface molecules help stabilize this interaction. Thus, the CD2/LFA-3 and LFA-1/intercellular adhesion molecule 1 pairs have been shown to participate in the binding between lymphoid cells and TEC. Here we describe an integrin of the very late activation antigen subfamily composed by the known beta 1 chain and by a novel alpha chain. This adhesion molecule is expressed on the surface of medullary TEC and is involved in the adhesion between TEC and thymocytes, but not peripheral blood T lymphocytes.

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