Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Leslie J. Berg, Ph.D.


T-Lymphocytes, Genes, T-Cell Receptor gamma, Genes, T-Cell Receptor delta, Stem Cells, Cell Differentiation, Autoantigens, High Mobility Group Proteins, Transcription Factors


Mature αβ and γδ T cells arise from a common precursor population in the thymus. Much debate has focused on the mechanism of T cell lineage choice made by these multi-potential precursor cells. It is widely believed that the decision of these precursor cells to commit to the γδ or αβ T cell lineages is regulated primarily by a specific instructive signal relayed through the appropriate T cell receptor. Contrary to this model, we present evidence for a TCR-independent lineage commitment process. Comparison of global gene expression profiles from immature αβ and γδ lineage thymocytes identified Sox13, an HMG-box transcription factor, as a γδ T cell-specific gene. Unlike other HMG-box transcription factors such as TCF1, LEF1 and SOX4, that are critical for proper αβ T cell development, Sox13 expression is restricted to early precursor subsets and γδ lineage cells. Importantly, SOX13 appears to influence the developmental fate of T cell precursors prior to T cell receptor expression on the cell surface. Transgenic over-expression of Sox13 in early T cell precursors strongly inhibits αβ lineage development, in part, by inhibiting precursor cell proliferation and concomitantly, leading to increased cell death among αβ lineage subsets. Steady-state γδ T cell numbers, however, appear unaffected. Strikingly, the DP αβ lineage cells that do develop in Sox13 transgenic mice are imprinted with a γδ- or precursor-like molecular profile, suggesting that SOX13 plays an active role in the lineage fate decision process or maintenance. Sox13-deficient mice, on the other hand, have selectively reduced numbers of γδ thymocytes, indicating that SOX13 is essential for proper development of γδ T cells. We present additional data demonstrating that SOX13 is a canonical WNT signaling antagonist modulating TCF1 activity, raising a strong possibility that WNT signals, and their modulators, are at the nexus of γδ versus αβ T cell lineage commitment.


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