T lymphocytes are generated throughout life, arising from bone marrow-derived progenitors that complete an essential developmental process in the thymus. Thymic T cell education leads to the generation of a self-restricted and largely self-tolerant peripheral T-cell pool and is facilitated by interactions with thymic stromal cells residing in distinct supportive niches. The signals governing thymocyte precursor migration into the thymus, directing thymocyte navigation through thymic microenvironments and mature T-cell egress into circulation were, until recently, largely unknown, but presumed to be mediated to a large extent by chemokine signalling. Recent studies have now uncovered various specific functions for members of the chemokine superfamily in the thymus. These studies have not only revealed distinct but also in some cases overlapping roles for several chemokine family members in various thymocyte migration events and have also shown that homing and positioning of other cells in the thymus, such as dendritic cells and natural killer T cells is also chemokine-dependent. Here, we discuss current understanding of the role of chemokines in the thymus and highlight key future avenues for investigation in this field.
- Cell Movement/immunology
- Receptors, Chemokine/immunology
- Signal Transduction/immunology
- Thymus Gland/cytology