A novel role for neural crest cells in thymus organogenesis

Ann Venables Griffith, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Classical ablation studies have shown that neural crest cells (NCC) are critical for thymus organogenesis, though their role in this process has never been determined. We have used a mouse model deficient in NCC near the thymus rudiment to investigate the role of NCC in thymus organogenesis. Splotch mice exhibit a lack of NCC migration due to mutation in the gene encoding the transcription factor Pax 3. Homozygous mutants, designated Pax3Sp/Sp, display a range of phenotypes including spina bifida, cardiac outflow tract deformities, and craniofacial deformities. Pax3Sp/Sp, mice have also been reported to have hypoplastic and abnormal thymi, which is consistent with the expected result based on the classical ablation studies. However, in contrast to the dogma, we find that the thymus lobes in Pax3Sp/Sp, mice are even larger in size than those of littermate controls, although they fail to migrate and are therefore ectopic. Differentiation of the thymic epithelial compartments occurs normally, including the ability to import hematopoietic precursors, until the embryos die at embryonic day E13.0. We also investigated the patterning of the third pharyngeal pouch which gives rise to both the thymus and the parathyroid. Using RNA probes to detect expression of transcription factors exclusively expressed in the ventral, thymus- or dorsal, parathyroidfated domains of the E11.5 third pouch, we show that the parathyroid domain is restricted and the thymus-fated domain is expanded in Pax3Sp/Sp, embryos. Furthermore, mixing of the boundary between these domains occurs at E12.0. These results necessitate reconsideration of the previously accepted role for NCC in thymus organogenesis. NCC are not required for outgrowth of the thymus up to E13.0, and most strikingly, we have discovered a novel role for NCC in establishing parathyroid versus thymus fate boundaries in the third pharyngeal pouch.

Subject Area

Immunology|Anatomy & physiology

Recommended Citation

Griffith, Ann Venables, "A novel role for neural crest cells in thymus organogenesis" (2006). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3224933.