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Expression of the pre-T cell receptor (preTCR) is an important checkpoint during the development of T cells, an essential cell type of our adaptive immune system. The preTCR complex is only transiently expressed and rapidly internalized in developing T cells and is thought to signal in a ligand-independent manner. However, identifying a mechanistic basis for these unique features of the preTCR compared with the final TCR complex has been confounded by the concomitant signaling that is normally present. Thus, we have reconstituted preTCR expression in non-immune cells to uncouple receptor trafficking dynamics from its associated signaling. We find that all the defining features of the preTCR are intrinsic properties of the receptor itself, driven by exposure of an extracellular hydrophobic region, and are not the consequence of receptor activation. Finally, we show that transitory preTCR cell surface expression can sustain tonic signaling in the absence of ligand binding, suggesting how the preTCR can nonetheless drive αβTCR lineage commitment.

Original publication




Journal article


J Cell Biol

Publication Date