The soluble γc protein (sγc) is a naturally occurring splice isoform of the γc cytokine receptor that is produced by activated T cells and inhibits γc cytokine signaling. Here we show that sγc expression is also highly upregulated in immature CD4 + CD8 + thymocytes but then downregulated in mature thymocytes. These results indicate a developmentally controlled mechanism for sγc expression and suggest a potential role for sγc in regulating T cell development in the thymus. Indeed, sγc overexpression resulted in significantly reduced thymocyte numbers and diminished expansion of immature thymocytes, concordant to its role in suppressing signaling by IL-7, a critical γc cytokine in early thymopoiesis. Notably, sγc overexpression also impaired generation of iNKT cells, resulting in reduced iNKT cell percentages and numbers in the thymus. iNKT cell development requires IL-15, and we found that sγc interfered with IL-15 signaling to suppress iNKT cell generation in the thymus. Thus, sγc represents a new mechanism to control cytokine availability during T cell development that constrains mature T cell production and specifically iNKT cell generation in the thymus.
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