Ontogeny and regulation of interleukin-7 expressing thymic epithelial cells

Monica Zamisch Brunstein, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


T cell development is a multistage process of differentiation that depends on proper thymocyte-thymic epithelial cell (TEC) interactions. Epithelial cells in the thymus are organized in a three-dimensional network that provides support and signals for thymocyte maturation. Concurrently, proper TEC differentiation in the adult thymus relies on thymocyte-derived signals. TECs produce interleukin-7 (IL-7), a non-redundant cytokine that promotes the survival, differentiation, and proliferation of thymocytes. We have identified IL-7 expressing TECs throughout ontogeny and in the adult thymus by in situ hybridization analysis. IL-7 expression is initiated in the thymic fated domain of the thymic primordium by embryonic day 11.5, in a Foxn1 independent pathway. Marked changes occur in the localization and regulation of IL-7 expressing TECs during development. Whereas IL-7 expressing TECs are present throughout the early thymic rudiment, the majority of IL-7 producing TECs are concentrated in the adult thymic medulla. By analyzing mouse strains that sustain blocks at different stages of thymocyte development, we show that IL-7 expression is initiated independently of hematopoietic-derived signals during thymic organogenesis. However, thymocyte-derived signals play an essential role in regulating IL-7 expression in the adult TEC compartment. Furthermore, distinct thymocyte subsets regulate the expression of IL-7 and keratin 5 in adult cortical epithelium. Intraperitoneal injection of Recombination Activating Gene deficient mice (RAG-2−/−) with anti-CD3ϵ monoclonal antibody (mAb) induces CD4− 8− double negative thymocytes to undergo β-selection and differentiate into CD4+8+ cells. Analysis of the thymic stromal compartment reveals that progression through β-selection renders thymocytes competent to alter the pattern of IL-7 expression in the cortical TEC compartment. RAG-2−/− mice do not generate mature T cells and therefore the RAG-2−/− thymus is devoid of organized medullary regions. Histological examination of RAG-2−/− thymus following anti-CD3ϵ stimulation reveals the emergence of mature thymic medullary regions, as assessed by H & E staining and expression of thymic stromal medullary markers. Stromal medullary reorganization occurs in the absence of T cell receptor αβ expression, suggesting that activation of RAG-2−/− thymocytes by CD3ϵ ligation generates thymocyte-derived signals that induce thymic epithelial reorganization, generating a mature medullary compartment. This model provides a tool to assess the mechanisms underlying thymic medullary development.

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Recommended Citation

Zamisch Brunstein, Monica, "Ontogeny and regulation of interleukin-7 expressing thymic epithelial cells" (2005). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3168452.