Extensive studies of pre-TCR- and TCR-dependent signaling have led to characterization of a pathway deemed essential for efficient T cell development, and comprised of a cascade of sequential events involving phosphorylation of Lck and ZAP-70, followed by phosphorylation of LAT and SLP-76, and subsequent additional downstream events. Of interest, however, reports from our lab as well as others have indicated that the requirements for ZAP-70, LAT, and SLP-76 are partially reversed by inactivation of c-Cbl (Cbl), an E3 ubiquitin ligase that targets multiple molecules for ubiquitination and degradation. Analysis of signaling events in these Cbl knockout models, including the recently reported analysis of SLP-76 transgenes defective in interaction with Vav1, suggested that activation of Vav1 might be a critical event in alternative pathways of T cell development. To extend the analysis of signaling requirements for thymic development, we have therefore assessed the effect of Cbl inactivation on the T cell developmental defects that occur in Vav1-deficient mice. The defects in Vav1-deficient thymic development, including a marked defect in DN3-DN4 transition, were completely reversed by Cbl inactivation, accompanied by enhanced phosphorylation of PLC-γ1 and ERKs in response to pre-TCR/TCR cross-linking of Vav1-/-Cbl-/- DP thymocytes. Taken together, these results suggest a substantially modified paradigm for pre-TCR/TCR signaling and T cell development. The observed consensus pathways of T cell development, including requirements for ZAP-70, LAT, SLP-76, and Vav1, appear to reflect the restriction by Cbl of an otherwise much broader set of molecular pathways capable of mediating T cell development
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