The ability of interleukin-7 (IL-7) to stimulate murine thymocyte proliferation was investigated. IL-7, either alone or in concert with lectin, induced proliferation of adult thymocytes as well as day 13 fetal and adult CD4-/CD8-thymocytes. The IL-7-induced proliferative response of unfractionated thymocytes could not be inhibited by antibodies to IL-2, or IL-4, IL-6, or the IL-2 receptor. In addition, IL-2, IL-4, and IL-6 were not produced by thymocytes activated with IL- 7, as judged by the absence of biologically active cytokine in IL-7- stimulated culture supernatants. IL-7 could act in concert with IL-2 and IL-4 or with IL-4 to enhance the proliferative response of thymocyte cultures. Thus, IL-7 may cause proliferation of thymocytes directly, not indirectly, through production of IL-2, IL-4, or IL-6. IL- 7 may then play a significant role in differentiation of T lymphocytes.

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