In the thymus, pre-T cell receptor (pre-TCR)--mediated signaling and then TCR-mediated signaling initiate changes in gene expression that result in the maturation of CD4 and CD8 lineage T cells from common precursors. Using gene chip technology, we isolated a murine gene, designated Tox, that encodes a member of the HMG (high-mobility group) box family of DNA-binding proteins. TOX expression is up-regulated by both pre-TCR and TCR activation of immature thymocytes but not by TCR activation of mature naïve T cells. Transgenic mice that express TOX show expanded CD8+ and reduced CD4+ single positive thymocyte subpopulations. We present evidence here that this phenotype results from a perturbation in lineage commitment due to reduced sensitivity to TCR-mediated signaling. This molecular marker of thymic selection events may therefore play a role in establishing the activation threshold of developing T cells and patterning changes in gene expression.
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