Human thymic T cell repertoire is imprinted with strong convergence to shared sequences

Nelli Heikkilä*, Reetta Vanhanen, Dawit A. Yohannes, Iivari Kleino, Ilkka P. Mattila, Jari Saramäki, T. Petteri Arstila

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


A highly diverse repertoire of T cell antigen receptors (TCR) is created in the thymus by recombination of gene segments and the insertion or deletion of nucleotides at the junctions. Using next-generation TCR sequencing we define here the features of recombination and selection in the human TCRα and TCRβ locus, and show that a strikingly high proportion of the repertoire is shared by unrelated individuals. The thymic TCRα nucleotide repertoire was more diverse than TCRβ, with 4.1 × 106 vs. 0.81 × 106 unique clonotypes, and contained nonproductive clonotypes at a higher frequency (69.2% vs. 21.2%). The convergence of distinct nucleotide clonotypes to the same amino acid sequences was higher in TCRα than in TCRβ repertoire (1.45 vs. 1.06 nucleotide sequences per amino acid sequence in thymus). The gene segment usage was biased, and generally all individuals favored the same genes in both TCRα and TCRβ loci. Despite the high diversity, a large fraction of the repertoire was found in more than one donor. The shared fraction was bigger in TCRα than TCRβ repertoire, and more common in in-frame sequences than in nonproductive sequences. Thus, both biases in rearrangement and thymic selection are likely to contribute to the generation of shared repertoire in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-123
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • next-generation sequencing
  • T cell antigen receptor
  • TCR recombination
  • TCR repertoire
  • thymus


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