During positive selection, thymocytes transition through a stage during which T cell antigen receptor (TCR) signaling controls CD4-versus-CD8 lineage 'choice' and subsequent maturation. Here we describe a previously unknown T cell-specific protein, Themis, that serves a distinct function during this stage. In Themis(-/-) mice, thymocyte selection was impaired and the number of transitional CD4(+)CD8(int) thymocytes as well as CD4(+) or CD8(+) single-positive thymocytes was lower. Notably, although we detected no overt TCR-proximal signaling deficiencies, Themis(-/-) CD4(+)CD8(int) thymocytes showed developmental defects consistent with attenuated signaling that were reversible by TCR stimulation. Our results identify Themis as a critical component of the T cell developmental program and suggest that Themis functions to sustain and/or integrate signals required for proper lineage commitment and maturation.
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