The disturbance of immune regulatory T cells is related to the pathogenesis of ulcerative colitis. Here we demonstrated and characterized the serum factor from ulcerative colitis patients that induced proliferation of intrathymic T cells. The factor isolated from the patient sera by a combination of gel filtration and anion-exchange chromatography induced proliferation of CD4+CD8- intrathymic T cells in the organ-cultured embryonic mouse thymus. Purification and amino acid sequence analysis of the serum factor demonstrated that the N-terminal 12 sequence was homologous to that of interleukin-7. SDS-PAGE and Western blot confirmed that purified serum factor was interleukin-7. Enzyme immunoassay demonstrated that the serum interleukin-7 concentration was significantly increased in the patients. PCR and Southern blot hybridization demonstrated that interleukin- 7 mRNA expression was increased in the thymus tissues from patients but decreased in the colonic mucosa. Since interleukin-7 is a crucial cytokine for proliferation and differentiation of T cells in the thymus, the present study indicates that interleukin-7 may contribute to the disturbance of immune regulatory T cells in ulcerative colitis.
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