Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Molecular Carcinogenesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Ellen Richie

Committee Member

Mark Bedford

Committee Member

David Johnson

Committee Member

Pierre McCrea

Committee Member

Bradley McIntyre


Enforced expression of Tbx1 in fetal thymic epithelial cells antagonizes

thymus organogenesis

Kim T. Cardenas

The thymus and parathyroid glands originate from organ-specific domains of 3rd pharyngeal pouch (PP) endoderm. At embryonic day 11.5 (E11.5), the ventral thymus and dorsal parathyroid domains can be identified by Foxn1 and Gcm2 expression respectively. Neural crest cells, (NCCs) play a role in regulating patterning of 3rd PP endoderm. In addition, pharyngeal endoderm influences fate determination via secretion of Sonic hedgehog (Shh), a morphogen required for Gcm2 expression and generation of the parathyroid domain. Gcm2 is a downstream target of the transcription factor Tbx1, which in turn is positively regulated by Shh. Although initially expressed throughout pharyngeal pouch endoderm, Tbx1 expression is excluded from the thymus-specific domain of the 3rd PP by E10.5, but persists in the parathyroid domain. Based on these observations, we hypothesized that Tbx1 expression is non-permissive for thymus fate specification and that enforced expression of Tbx1 in the fetal thymus would impair thymus development.

To test this hypothesis, we generated knock-in mice containing a Cre-inducible allele that allows for tissue-specific Tbx1 expression. Expression of the R26iTbx1 allele in fetal and adult thymus using Foxn1Cre resulted in severe thymus hypoplasia throughout ontogeny that persisted in the adult. Thymic epithelial cell (TEC) development was impaired as determined by immunohistochemical and FACS analysis of various differentiation markers. The relative level of Foxn1 expression in fetal TECs was significantly reduced. TECs in R26iTbx1/+ thymi assumed an almost universal expression of Plet-1, a marker associated with a TEC stem/progenitor cell fate. In addition, embryonic R26iTbx1/+ mice develop a perithymic mesechymal capsule that appears expanded compared to control littermates. Interestingly, thymi from neonatal and adult R26iTbx1/+ but not R26+/+ mice were encased in adipose tissue. This thymic phenotype also correlated with a decrease in thymocyte cellularity and aberrant thymocyte differentiation. The results to date support the conclusion that enforced expression of Tbx1 in TECs antagonizes their differentiation and prevents normal organogenesis via both direct and indirect effects.


thymus, thymus organogenesis, 3rd pharyngeal pouch, Tbx1, thymic epithelial, thymic development



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