IL-7 (interleukin-7) is a 25 kDa cytokine of the hemopoietin family that plays important roles in lymphocyte differentiation, proliferation, and survival. IL-7 is produced by a wide variety of cells in primary and secondary lymphoid tissues, including stromal epithelial cells of the thymus, bone marrow, and intestines. Circulating IL-7 is limiting in healthy animals, but increases during lymphopenia. IL-7 signals through a complex of the IL-7 Receptor alpha subunit (IL-7 R alpha, also known as CD127) with the common gamma chain (gamma c). The gamma c is also a subunit of the receptors for IL-2, 4, 9, 15, and 21. IL-7 R alpha is expressed on double negative (CD4-CD8-) and CD4+ or CD8+ single positive naïve and memory T cells, but undergoes IL-7-mediated down‑regulation and shedding during antigen-driven T cell proliferation, and is absent on regulatory T cells. IL-7 contributes to the maintenance of all naïve and memory T cells, mainly by promoting expression of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2.
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