The central event in thymic selection of T cells bearing αβ TCRs is their interaction with self-peptides bound to self-MHC molecules. With the use of transgenic mouse lines expressing a single peptide/MHC class II complex, we show that CD4+ T cells with the preferential usage of particular TCR Vαs and Vβs were selected to mature on this complex in lines with the lower expression, whereas such CD4+ T cells were eliminated in the thymus in a line with the relatively high expression. When a low expressing line was crossed with a high expressing line, the frequency of CD4+ T cells selected by this complex markedly decreased. Thus, these results suggest that a single peptide/MHC class II complex, being affected by its cell surface density in the thymus, can serve as both positively and negatively selecting ligand in vivo.
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