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1.  Specific expression of an oxytocin-enhanced cyan fluorescent protein fusion transgene in the rat hypothalamus and posterior pituitary 
The Journal of endocrinology  2009;204(3):275-285.
We have generated rats bearing an oxytocin (OXT)-enhanced cyan fluorescent protein (eCFP) fusion transgene designed from a murine construct previously shown to be faithfully expressed in transgenic mice. In situ hybridisation histochemistry revealed that the OXT-eCFP fusion gene was expressed in the supraoptic (SON) and the paraventricular nuclei (PVN) in these rats. The fluorescence emanating from eCFP was observed only in the SON, the PVN, the internal layer of the median eminence (ME) and the posterior pituitary (PP). In in vitro preparations, freshly dissociated cells from the SON and axon terminals showed clear eCFP fluorescence. Immunohistochemistry for OXT and arginine vasopressin (AVP) revealed that the eCFP fluorescence co-localises with OXT-immunofluorescence, but not with AVP-immunofluorescence in the SON and the PVN. Although the expression levels of the OXT-eCFP fusion gene in the SON and the PVN showed a wide range of variation in transgenic rats, eCFP fluorescence was markedly increased in the SON and the PVN, but decreased in the PP after chronic salt loading. The expression of the OXT gene was significantly increased in the SON and the PVN after chronic salt loading in both non-transgenic and transgenic rats. Compared to wild-type animals, euhydrated and salt-loaded male and female transgenic rats showed no significant differences in plasma osmolality, sodium concentration, OXT and AVP levels, suggesting that the fusion gene expression did not disturb any physiological processes. These results suggest that our new transgenic rat is a valuable new tool to identify OXT-producing neurones and their terminals.
PMCID: PMC2922867  PMID: 20026620
hypothalamus; neuropeptides; neurohypophysis; oxytocin; vasopressin; osmolarity; salt loading; transgenic rats; fluorescent proteins; CFP
2.  Thymic T Cell Development and Progenitor Localization Depend on CCR7 
T cell differentiation in the adult thymus depends on sequential interactions between lymphoid progenitors and stromal cells found in distinct regions of the cortex and medulla. Therefore, migration of T cell progenitors through distinct stromal environments seems to be a crucial process regulating differentiation and homeostasis inside the thymus.
Here we show that CCR7-deficient mice are distinguished by a disturbed thymic architecture, impaired T cell development, and decreased numbers of the thymocytes. Analysis of developing double negative (CD4−CD8−) pool of wild-type thymus reveals that CCR7 expression is restricted to a CD25intCD44+ subpopulation. Correspondingly, CCR7 deficiency results in an accumulation of this population in mutant thymus. Furthermore, immunohistology shows that in CCR7-deficient mice CD25+CD44+ cells accumulate at the cortico-medullary junction, suggesting that CCR7 signaling regulates the migration of early progenitors toward the outer thymic cortex, thereby continuing differentiation. Results obtained from mixed bone marrow chimeras support this view, since the development of CCR7-deficient thymocytes is also disturbed in a morphologically intact thymus. Thus, our findings establish an essential role for CCR7 in intrathymic migration and proper T cell development.
PMCID: PMC2211928  PMID: 15302903
chemokines; T cell development; cell migration; thymus; progenitor
3.  Viral infection of the thymus. 
Journal of Virology  1992;66(5):3155-3160.
We have examined infection of the thymus during congenitally acquired chronic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection of mice, a classic model of antigen-specific T-cell tolerance. Our results show that (i) infection starts at the fetal stage and is maintained throughout adulthood, and (ii) this chronic infection of the thymus can be eliminated by transfer of virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) that infiltrate the thymus and clear all viral products from both medullary and cortical regions. Elimination of virus from the thymus results in abrogation of tolerance. During the fetal stage, the predominant cell type infected is the earliest precursor of T cells with a surface phenotype of Thy1+ CD4- CD8- J11d+. In the adult thymus, infection is confined primarily to the cortisone-resistant thymocytes present in the medullary region. The infected cells are CD4+ and J11d+. The presence of J11d, a marker usually associated with immature thymocytes, on infected single positive CD4+ "mature" thymocytes is intriguing and suggests that infection by this noncytolytic virus may affect development of T cells. There is minimal infection of the CD8+ medullary thymocytes or of the double positive (CD4+ CD8+) cells present in the cortex. Infection within the cortex is confined to the stromal cells. Interestingly, there is infection of the double negative (CD4- CD8-) thymocytes in the adult thymus, showing that even during adulthood the newly developing T cells are susceptible to infection by LCMV. Virus can be eliminated from the thymuses of these carrier mice by adoptive transfer of medullary region first and then from the thymic cortex. This result clearly shows the need to reevaluate the widely held notion that mature T cells are unable to reenter the thymus. In fact, in our experiments the donor T cells made up to 20 to 30% of the total cells in the thymus at 5 to 7 days after the transfer. The number of donor T cells declined as virus was eliminated from the thymus, and at 1 month posttransfer, the donor T cells were hardly detectable. The results of this study examining the dynamics of viral infection and clearance from the thymus, the primary site of T-cell development, have implications for understanding tolerance induction in chronic viral infections.
PMCID: PMC241079  PMID: 1560541
Collaboration between thymus-derived lymphocytes, and nonthymus-derived antibody-forming cell precursors occurs during the immune response of mice to sheep erythrocytes (SRBC). The aim of the experiments reported here was to attempt to induce tolerance in each of the two cell populations to determine which cell type dictates the specificity of the response. Adult mice were rendered specifically tolerant to SRBC by treatment with one large dose of SRBC followed by cyclophosphamide. Attempts to restore to normal their anti-SRBC response by injecting lymphoid cells from various sources were unsuccessful. A slight increase in the response was, however, obtained in recipients of thymus or thoracic duct lymphocytes and a more substantial increase in recipients of spleen cells or of a mixture of thymus or thoracic duct cells and normal marrow or spleen cells from thymectomized donors. Thymus cells from tolerant mice were as effective as thymus cells from normal or cyclophosphamide-treated controls in enabling neonatally thymectomized recipients to respond to SRBC and in collaborating with normal marrow cells to allow a response to SRBC in irradiated mice. Tolerance was thus not achieved at the level of thelymphocyte population within the thymus, perhaps because of insufficient penetration of the thymus by the antigens concerned. By contrast, thoracic duct lymphocytes from tolerant mice failed to restore to normal the response of neonatally thymectomized recipients to SRBC. Tolerance is thus a property that can be linked specifically to thymus-derived cells as they exist in the mobile pool of recirculating lymphocytes outside the thymus. Thymus-derived cells are thus considered capable of recognizing and specifically reacting with antigenic determinants. Marrow cells from tolerant mice were as effective as marrow cells from cyclophosphamide-treated or normal controls in collaborating with normal thymus cells to allow a response to SRBC in irradiated recipients. When a mixture of thymus or thoracic duct cells and lymph node cells was given to irradiated mice, the response to SRBC was essentially the same whether the lymph node cells were derived from tolerant donors or from thymectomized irradiated, marrow-protected donors. Attempts to induce tolerance to SRBC in adult thymectomized, irradiated mice 3–4 wk after marrow protection, by treatment with SRBC and cyclophosphamide, were unsuccessful: after injection of thoracic duct cells, a vigorous response to SRBC occurred. The magnitude of the response was the same whether or not thymus cells had been given prior to the tolerization regime. The various experimental designs have thus failed to demonstrate specific tolerance in the nonthymus-derived lymphocyte population. Several alternative possibilities were discussed. Perhaps such a population does not contain cells capable of dictating the specificity of the response. This was considered unlikely. Alternatively, tolerance may have been achieved but soon masked by a rapid, thymus-independent, differentiation of marrow-derived lymphoid stem cells. On the other hand, tolerance may not have occurred simply because the induction of tolerance, like the induction of antibody formation, requires the collaboration of thymus-derived cells. Finally, tolerance in the nonthymus-derived cell population may never be achieved because the SRBC-cyclophosphamide regime specifically eliminates thymus-derived cells leaving the antibody-forming cell precursors intact but unable to react with antigen as there are no thymus-derived cells with which to interact.
PMCID: PMC2138778  PMID: 5464380
5.  Delayed functional maturation of natural regulatory T cells in the medulla of postnatal thymus: role of TSLP 
BMC Immunology  2006;7:6.
Generation of functional CD4+CD8-CD25+ regulatory T cells (Treg) in the murine thymus depends on FoxP3. Removal of the thymus from neonatal mice has been shown to result in a multiple organ autoimmune disease phenotype that can be prevented by introducing the FoxP3+ Treg population to the animal. It has therefore, been proposed that functional FoxP3+ Treg cells are not made in the neonatal thymus; however, it remains unclear when and where functional FoxP3+CD4+CD8-CD25+ thymocytes are generated in postnatal thymus.
We report that neither FoxP3 mRNA nor protein is expressed in CD4+CD8-CD25+, or CD4+CD8-CD25- thymocytes until 3–4 days post birth, despite the presence of mature CD4+CD8-CD25+/- thymocytes in the thymus by 1–2 days after birth. FoxP3-CD4+CD8-CD25+ thymocytes from day 2 newborn mice show no Treg activity. Interestingly, we are able to detect low numbers of FoxP3+ thymocytes dispersed throughout the medullary region of the thymus as early as 3–4 days post birth. Expression of FoxP3 is induced in embryonic day 17 fetal thymus organ culture (FTOC) after 4–6 days of in vitro culture. Treatment of FTOCs with thymic stromal derived lymphopoietin (TSLP) enhanced expression of FoxP3, and blocking the TSLP receptor reduces FoxP3 expression in FTOC. Furthermore, TSLP stimulates FoxP3 expression in purified CD4+CD8- thymocytes, but not in CD4+CD8+, CD4-CD8+ and CD4-CD8- thymocytes.
Expression of FoxP3 or Treg maturation is ontogenically distinct and kinetically delayed from the generation of CD4+CD8-CD25+ or CD4+CD8-CD25- thymocytes in the postnatal thymus. TSLP produced from medullary thymic epithelia cells (mTEC) contributes to the expression of FoxP3 and the maturation of natural regulatory T cells. Overall, these results suggest that the development of Treg cells requires paracrine signaling during late stages of thymocyte maturation that is distinct from signaling during positive or negative selection.
PMCID: PMC1450317  PMID: 16579866
6.  TSCOT + Thymic Epithelial Cell-Mediated Sensitive CD4 Tolerance by Direct Presentation  
PLoS Biology  2008;6(8):e191.
Although much effort has been directed at dissecting the mechanisms of central tolerance, the role of thymic stromal cells remains elusive. In order to further characterize this event, we developed a mouse model restricting LacZ to thymic stromal cotransporter (TSCOT)-expressing thymic stromal cells (TDLacZ). The thymus of this mouse contains approximately 4,300 TSCOT+ cells, each expressing several thousand molecules of the LacZ antigen. TSCOT+ cells express the cortical marker CDR1, CD40, CD80, CD54, and major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII). When examining endogenous responses directed against LacZ, we observed significant tolerance. This was evidenced in a diverse T cell repertoire as measured by both a CD4 T cell proliferation assay and an antigen-specific antibody isotype analysis. This tolerance process was at least partially independent of Autoimmune Regulatory Element gene expression. When TDLacZ mice were crossed to a novel CD4 T cell receptor (TCR) transgenic reactive against LacZ (BgII), there was a complete deletion of double-positive thymocytes. Fetal thymic reaggregate culture of CD45- and UEA-depleted thymic stromal cells from TDLacZ and sorted TCR-bearing thymocytes excluded the possibility of cross presentation by thymic dendritic cells and medullary epithelial cells for the deletion. Overall, these results demonstrate that the introduction of a neoantigen into TSCOT-expressing cells can efficiently establish complete tolerance and suggest a possible application for the deletion of antigen-specific T cells by antigen introduction into TSCOT+ cells.
Author Summary
T cells play critical roles in the immune response. While developing in the thymus (from whence T cells and their precursors, thymocytes, derive their name), thymocytes are selected for the ability to recognize harmful antigen (positive selection), while those that respond to antigens present in their own body are eliminated (negative selection). Dogma holds that the thymus is divided into different functional compartments to ensure that these contrasting selection processes occur efficiently: the cortex is thought to be responsible for positive selection and the medulla for negative selection. In this study, we made use of a novel transgenic mouse (carrying a LacZ marker in a small fraction of cells in the cortex) to test whether the cortex is really excluded from negative selection. We were able to show that the introduced LacZ “antigen” present only in the cortical cells leads them to eliminate any LacZ-reactive T cells from the immune repertoire and leads to tolerance of the LacZ “antigen” by the body's immune system. This process is highly efficient, such that a relatively tiny number of antigen molecules present in a small fraction of the cells in the thymic cortex can singularly perform proofreading of all developing thymocytes.
A new study shows that antigen-specific negative selection of developing thymocytes is a property of thymic cortical epithelial cells, challenging the view that this process requires contact with specialized antigen-presenting cells found in the thymic medulla.
PMCID: PMC2494558  PMID: 18684012
7.  Differential Effects of X-Irradiation and Cyclosporin-A Administration on the Thymus with Respect to the Generation of Cyclosporin-A-Induced Autoimmunity 
Developmental Immunology  1995;4(2):127-138.
Cyclosporin A (CsA), a potent inhibitor of T-cell activation, has been shown to have several effects on thymocyte maturation, thymic stromal cells, and the generation of autoreactive T cells. In Lewis rats, the combination of lethal irradiation, syngeneic bone marrow transplantation, and a 4-week course of CsA administration causes the development of an autoimmune disease (CsA-AI) resembling allogeneic graft-versus-host disease. This occurs upon withdrawal of CsA, provided the thymus receives irradiation and is present during CsA treatment. In this study, the separate effects of irradiation or CsA treatment on thymic stromal cells and thymocytes, compared to the combinatory effects, were examined using immunohistochemistry and tricolor flow cytometric analysis.
CsA treatment causes an involution of the thymic medulla and a strong reduction of the cell number of thymocytes and stromal cells residing in the medulla. However, within the remaining medullary area, changes in cell distribution and antigen density on these cells were not observed. Irradiation on the other hand causes a strong depletion of thymocytes. The thymocyte population is recovered within 2 weeks and a cortical and medullary region can be distinguished. CsA treatment in combination with irradiation results in a strongly inhibited recovery of the medulla during CsA treatment, whereas the cortex recovers to normal size and morphology. The presence of the medullary IDC and epithelial cells is reduced proportionally to the small size of the medulla. However, the distribution of these stromal cells is normal. During the CsA administration, the thymuses from irradiated and CsA-treated rats are very similar to thymuses from CsA-treated rats. In conclusion, no changes specific for irradiation plus CsA treatment have been observed. Regarding the distribution and size of medullary stromal cells and residing thymocytes, thymuses from irradiated and CsA-treated rats hardly differ from the thymuses from rats treated only with CsA. Therefore, irradiation seems essential in the generation of CsA-AI by eliminating suppressor-cell circuits in the periphery.
PMCID: PMC2275949  PMID: 9700362
Autoimmunity; cyclosporin A; flow cytometry; histology; rat; thymus
8.  The thymus microenvironment in regulating thymocyte differentiation 
Cell Adhesion & Migration  2010;4(3):382-390.
The thymus plays a crucial role in the development of T lymphocytes by providing an inductive microenvironment in which committed progenitors undergo proliferation, T-cell receptor gene rearrangements and thymocyte differentiate into mature T cells. The thymus microenvironment forms a complex network of interaction that comprises non lymphoid cells (e.g., thymic epithelial cells, TEC), cytokines, chemokines, extracellular matrix elements (ECM), matrix metalloproteinases and other soluble proteins. The thymic epithelial meshwork is the major component of the thymic microenvironment, both morphologically and phenotypically limiting heterogeneous regions in thymic lobules and fulfilling an important role during specific stages of T-cell maturation. The process starts when bone marrow-derived lymphocyte precursors arrive at the outer cortical region of the thymic gland and begin to mature into functional T lymphocytes that will finally exit the thymus and populate the peripheral lymphoid organs. During their journey inside the thymus, thymocytes must interact with stromal cells (and their soluble products) and extracellular matrix proteins to receive appropriate signals for survival, proliferation and differentiation. The crucial components of the thymus microenvironment, and their complex interactions during the T-cell maturation process are summarized here with the objective of contributing to a better understanding of the function of the thymus, as well as assisting in the search for new therapeutic approaches to improve the immune response in various pathological conditions.
PMCID: PMC2958614  PMID: 20418658
thymus; T-cell maturation; thymic microenvironment; thymocyte differantiation; chemokines; extracellular matrix; thymic nurse cells; metalloproteinases
9.  Hematopoietic thymocyte precursors. I. Assay and kinetics of the appearance of progeny 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  1976;143(5):1082-1099.
A quantitative assay for the hematopoietic precursor of thymocytes has been developed. Using this assay the kinetics of appearance of the progeny of transfused bone marrow and spleen cells in the thymus of irradiated (760 R) mice has been studied. Precursor cells are seven to eightfold more common in bone marrow than in spleen and are absent from peripheral lymph nodes. They decline in number as the animals age. When hematopoietic cells are injected immediately after lethal irradiation only a small number of cells actually enter the gland. Their progeny are not detectable in the thymus for 8-12 days. The time of their detection depends both upon the size of the residual endogenous thymocyte population and the number of progenitor cells injected. Evidence has been presented that excludes thymic injury as the basis for the delay in the appearance of donor type cells and indicates that neither the production of a "homing" signal in the irradiated animal nor the development of precursor cells are limiting factors in the rate of thymic repopulation. These studies indicate that only an exceedingly small number (less than 100) of prothymocytes are required to repopulate the thymus of an irradiated mouse. This restricted number of progenitors must produce the entire repertory of T-cell immunologic responsiveness seen in the first weeks after repopulation.
PMCID: PMC2190196  PMID: 4575
10.  Pak2 is required for actin cytoskeleton remodeling, TCR signaling, and normal thymocyte development and maturation 
eLife  2014;3:e02270.
The molecular mechanisms that govern thymocyte development and maturation are incompletely understood. The P21-activated kinase 2 (Pak2) is an effector for the Rho family GTPases Rac and Cdc42 that regulate actin cytoskeletal remodeling, but its role in the immune system remains poorly understood. In this study, we show that T-cell specific deletion of Pak2 gene in mice resulted in severe T cell lymphopenia accompanied by marked defects in development, maturation, and egress of thymocytes. Pak2 was required for pre-TCR β-selection and positive selection. Surprisingly, Pak2 deficiency in CD4 single positive thymocytes prevented functional maturation and reduced expression of S1P1 and KLF2. Mechanistically, Pak2 is required for actin cytoskeletal remodeling triggered by TCR. Failure to induce proper actin cytoskeletal remodeling impaired PLCγ1 and Erk1/2 signaling in the absence of Pak2, uncovering the critical function of Pak2 as an essential regulator that governs the actin cytoskeleton-dependent signaling to ensure normal thymocyte development and maturation.
eLife digest
T cells are a key element of the immune system. There are many different types of T cells, and they all have their origins in hematopoietic stem cells that are found in the bone marrow. These stem cells leave the bone marrow and circulate in the body until they reach an organ called the thymus, where they become early thymic progenitor cells. These progenitor cells then undergo a process called differentiation to become specific types of T cells, which mature in the thymus before moving to the blood. Although various molecules and mechanisms are known to be involved in the development of T cells, many details of this process are not understood.
One group of molecules that has been implicated in the differentiation of T cells is the p21-activated kinases. Kinases are proteins that activate or deactivate other proteins by adding phosphate groups to specific amino acids. Pak2 adds phosphorylate groups to various proteins that are involved in the reorganization of an important structure inside the cell called the cytoskeleton.
A kinase called Pak2 has an important role in the reorganization of the cytoskeleton, and since this reorganization is involved in almost all aspects of T cell biology, it seems plausible that Pak2 is also involved in the development of T cells. However, it has not been possible to test this idea because deleting the gene for Pak2 in mice results in their death.
Now, Phee et al. have overcome this problem by performing experiments in which the gene for Pak2 was only deleted in T cells. These mice had significantly fewer mature T cells than healthy mice. In particular, the absence of Pak2 in thymocytes (the cells that become T cells) prevented them from maturing into T cells, and also prevented them from producing a receptor protein that is needed for mature T cells to leave the thymus. This work implies that disruption of the Pak2-mediated signaling pathway that regulates the cytoskeleton may weaken the immune system in humans.
PMCID: PMC4017645  PMID: 24843022
signal transduction; T cell development; p21-activated kinase; mouse
11.  Embryonic stem cells and mice expressing different GFP variants for multiple non-invasive reporter usage within a single animal 
BMC Biotechnology  2002;2:11.
Non-invasive autofluorescent reporters have revolutionized lineage labeling in an array of different organisms. In recent years green fluorescent protein (GFP) from the bioluminescent jellyfish Aequoria Victoria has gained popularity in mouse transgenic and gene targeting regimes [1]. It offers several advantages over conventional gene-based reporters, such as lacZ and alkaline phosphatase, in that its visualization does not require a chromogenic substrate and can be realized in vivo. We have previously demonstrated the utility and developmental neutrality of enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) in embryonic stem (ES) cells and mice [2].
In this study we have used embryonic stem (ES) cell-mediated transgenesis to test the enhanced cyan fluorescent protein (ECFP) and enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (EYFP), two mutant and spectrally distinct color variants of wild type (wt) GFP. We have also tested DsRed1, the novel red fluorescent protein reporter recently cloned from the Discostoma coral by virtue of its homology to GFP. To this end, we have established lines of ES cells together with viable and fertile mice having widespread expression of either the ECFP or EYFP GFP-variant reporters. However, we were unable to generate equivalent DsRed1 lines, suggesting that DsRed1 is not developmentally neutral or that transgene expression cannot be sustained constitutively. Balanced (diploid <-> diploid) and polarized (tetraploid <-> diploid) chimeras comprising combinations of the ECFP and EYFP ES cells and/or embryos, demonstrate that populations of cells expressing each individual reporter can be distinguished within a single animal.
GFP variant reporters are unique in allowing non-invasive multi-spectral visualization in live samples. The ECFP and EYFP-expressing transgenic ES cells and mice that we have generated provide sources of cells and tissues for combinatorial, double-tagged recombination experiments, chimeras or transplantations.
PMCID: PMC116589  PMID: 12079497
The number of discrete hemolytic foci and of hemolysin-forming cells arising in the spleens of heavily irradiated mice given sheep erythrocytes and either syngeneic thymus or bone marrow was not significantly greater than that detected in controls given antigen alone. Thoracic duct cells injected with sheep erythrocytes significantly increased the number of hemolytic foci and 10 million cells gave rise to over 1000 hemolysin-forming cells per spleen. A synergistic effect was observed when syngeneic thoracic duct cells were mixed with syngeneic marrow cells: the number of hemolysin-forming cells produced in this case was far greater than could be accounted for by summating the activities of either cell population given alone. The number of hemolytic foci produced by the mixed population was not however greater than that produced by an equivalent number of thoracic duct cells given without bone marrow. Thymus cells given together with syngeneic bone marrow enabled irradiated mice to produce hemolysin-forming cells but were much less effective than the same number of thoracic duct cells. Likewise syngeneic thymus cells were not as effective as thoracic duct cells in enabling thymectomized irradiated bone marrow-protected hosts to produce hemolysin-forming cells in response to sheep erythrocytes. Irradiated recipients of semiallogeneic thoracic duct cells produced hemolysin-forming cells of donor-type as shown by the use of anti-H2 sera. The identity of the hemolysin-forming cells in the spleens of irradiated mice receiving a mixed inoculum of semiallogeneic thoracic duct cells and syngeneic marrow was not determined because no synergistic effect was obtained in these recipients in contrast to the results in the syngeneic situation. Thymectomized irradiated mice protected with bone marrow for a period of 2 wk and injected with semiallogeneic thoracic duct cells together with sheep erythrocytes did however produce a far greater number of hemolysin-forming cells than irradiated mice receiving the same number of thoracic duct cells without bone marrow. Anti-H2 sera revealed that the antibody-forming cells arising in the spleens of these thymectomized irradiated hosts were derived, not from the injected thoracic duct cells, but from bone marrow. It is concluded that thoracic duct lymph contains a mixture of cell types: some are hemolysin-forming cell precursors and others are antigen-reactive cells which can interact with antigen and initiate the differentiation of hemolysin-forming cell precursors to antibody-forming cells. Bone marrow contains only precursors of hemolysin-forming cells and thymus contains only antigen-reactive cells but in a proportion that is far less than in thoracic duct lymph.
PMCID: PMC2138546  PMID: 5691986
13.  Early T lymphocytes. Differentiation in vivo of adult intrathymic precursor cells 
A minor subpopulation of adult murine thymocytes (less than 5%) that is Lyt-2-, L3T4-, and expresses low levels of Ly-1 (designated dLy-1 [dull] thymocytes) has been identified, isolated, and characterized. This study assesses the differentiation potential of dLy-1 thymocytes in the thymus in vivo. Using multiparameter flow cytometry, radiation chimeras of C57BL/6 mice congenic at the Ly-1 or Ly-5 locus, and allelic markers to discriminate host and donor, we showed that transferred dLy-1 cells were able to generate thymocytes expressing both cortical and medullary phenotypes in a sequential manner. The proportion of donor-derived thymocytes obtained was directly related to the number of dLy-1 thymocytes transferred. Transfer of purified Lyt-2+ or Lyt-2+ + L3T4+ thymocytes, which constitute greater than 94% of total thymocytes, failed to generate any donor-derived thymocytes in irradiated recipients. Transfer of bone marrow (BM) cells produced the same sequential pattern of differentiation as that produced by dLy-1 cells, but was delayed by 4-5 d. Transferred dLy-1 thymocytes exhibited a limited capacity for self-renewal, and resulted in a single wave of differentiation in irradiated hosts. Thus, thymic repopulation by donor- derived cells after transfer of dLy-1 thymocytes was transient, while repopulation by BM was permanent. These findings suggest that the isolated dLy-1 thymocytes described herein are precursor thymocytes that represent a very early stage in intrathymic development.
PMCID: PMC2187800  PMID: 2863322
14.  Promiscuous Gene Expression in the Thymus: The Root of Central Tolerance 
The thymus is a complex organ with an epithelium formed by two main cell types, the cortical thymic epithelial (cTECs) and medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs), referred to as stroma. Immature thymocytes arising from the bone marrow, macrophages and dendritic cells also populate the thymus. Thymocytes evolve to mature T cells featuring cell differentiation antigens (CDs), which characterize the phenotypically distinct stages, defined as double-negative (DN), double positive (DP) and single positive (SP), based on expression of the coreceptors CD4 and CD8. The thymus is therefore implicated in T cell differentiation and during development into T cells thymocytes are in close association with the stroma. Recent evidence showed that mTECs express a diverse set of genes coding for parenchymal organ specific proteins. This phenomenon has been termed promiscuous gene expression (PGE) and has led to the reconsideration of the role of the thymus in central T cell tolerance to self-antigens, which prevents autoimmunity. The evidence of PGE is causing a reanalysis in the scope of central tolerance understanding. We summarize the evidence of PGE in the thymus, focusing particularly the use of cDNA microarray technology for the broad characterization of gene expression and demarcation of PGE emergence during thymus ontogeny.
PMCID: PMC2270777  PMID: 17162352
15.  Intravital Imaging of the Mouse Thymus using 2-Photon Microscopy 
Two-photon Microscopy (TPM) provides image acquisition in deep areas inside tissues and organs. In combination with the development of new stereotactic tools and surgical procedures, TPM becomes a powerful technique to identify "niches" inside organs and to document cellular "behaviors" in live animals. While intravital imaging provides information that best resembles the real cellular behavior inside the organ, it is both more laborious and technically demanding in terms of required equipment/procedures than alternative ex vivo imaging acquisition. Thus, we describe a surgical procedure and novel "stereotactic" organ holder that allows us to follow the movements of Foxp3+ cells within the thymus.
Foxp3 is the master regulator for the generation of regulatory T cells (Tregs). Moreover, these cells can be classified according to their origin: ie. thymus-differentiated Tregs are called "naturally-occurring Tregs" (nTregs), as opposed to peripherally-converted Tregs (pTregs). Although significant amount of research has been reported in the literature concerning the phenotype and physiology of these T cells, very little is known about their in vivo interactions with other cells. This deficiency may be due to the absence of techniques that would permit such observations. The protocol described in this paper provides a remedy for this situation.
Our protocol consists of using nude mice that lack an endogenous thymus since they have a punctual mutation in the DNA sequence that compromises the differentiation of some epithelial cells, including thymic epithelial cells. Nude mice were gamma-irradiated and reconstituted with bone marrows (BM) from Foxp3-KIgfp/gfp mice. After BM recovery (6 weeks), each animal received embryonic thymus transplantation inside the kidney capsule. After thymus acceptance (6 weeks), the animals were anesthetized; the kidney containing the transplanted thymus was exposed, fixed in our organ holder, and kept under physiological conditions for in vivo imaging by TPM. We have been using this approach to study the influence of drugs in the generation of regulatory T cells.
PMCID: PMC3369775  PMID: 22258059
Immunology;  Issue 59;  intravital;  in vivo;  thymus;  2-photon;  regulatory T cells
16.  Thymocytes may persist and differentiate without any input from bone marrow progenitors 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2012;209(8):1401-1408.
New thymus transplant experiments reveal that in the absence of competing bone marrow progenitors, existing thymocytes can self-renew, guaranteeing thymus cellularity and the rapid reconstitution of the peripheral T cell pools.
Thymus transplants can correct deficiencies of the thymus epithelium caused by the complete DiGeorge syndrome or FOXN1 mutations. However, thymus transplants were never used to correct T cell–intrinsic deficiencies because it is generally believed that thymocytes have short intrinsic lifespans. This notion is based on thymus transplantation experiments where it was shown that thymus-resident cells were rapidly replaced by progenitors originating in the bone marrow. In contrast, here we show that neonatal thymi transplanted into interleukin 7 receptor–deficient hosts harbor populations with extensive capacity to self-renew, and maintain continuous thymocyte generation and export. These thymus transplants reconstitute the full diversity of peripheral T cell repertoires one month after surgery, which is the earliest time point studied. Moreover, transplantation experiments performed across major histocompatibility barriers show that allogeneic transplanted thymi are not rejected, and allogeneic cells do not induce graft-versus-host disease; transplants induced partial or total protection to infection. These results challenge the current dogma that thymocytes cannot self-renew, and indicate a potential use of neonatal thymus transplants to correct T cell–intrinsic deficiencies. Finally, as found with mature T cells, they show that thymocyte survival is determined by the competition between incoming progenitors and resident cells.
PMCID: PMC3420331  PMID: 22778388
17.  Thymus-Associated Parathyroid Hormone Has Two Cellular Origins with Distinct Endocrine and Immunological Functions 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(12):e1001251.
In mammals, parathyroid hormone (PTH) is a key regulator of extracellular calcium and inorganic phosphorus homeostasis. Although the parathyroid glands were thought to be the only source of PTH, extra-parathyroid PTH production in the thymus, which shares a common origin with parathyroids during organogenesis, has been proposed to provide an auxiliary source of PTH, resulting in a higher than expected survival rate for aparathyroid Gcm2−/− mutants. However, the developmental ontogeny and cellular identity of these “thymic” PTH–expressing cells is unknown. We found that the lethality of aparathyroid Gcm2−/− mutants was affected by genetic background without relation to serum PTH levels, suggesting a need to reconsider the physiological function of thymic PTH. We identified two sources of extra-parathyroid PTH in wild-type mice. Incomplete separation of the parathyroid and thymus organs during organogenesis resulted in misplaced, isolated parathyroid cells that were often attached to the thymus; this was the major source of thymic PTH in normal mice. Analysis of thymus and parathyroid organogenesis in human embryos showed a broadly similar result, indicating that these results may provide insight into human parathyroid development. In addition, medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) express PTH in a Gcm2-independent manner that requires TEC differentiation and is consistent with expression as a self-antigen for negative selection. Genetic or surgical removal of the thymus indicated that thymus-derived PTH in Gcm2−/− mutants did not provide auxiliary endocrine function. Our data show conclusively that the thymus does not serve as an auxiliary source of either serum PTH or parathyroid function. We further show that the normal process of parathyroid organogenesis in both mice and humans leads to the generation of multiple small parathyroid clusters in addition to the main parathyroid glands, that are the likely source of physiologically relevant “thymic PTH.”
Author Summary
Due to the important role of PTH in the regulation of physiological activities, disorders in PTH production can cause many diseases in humans. Thus it is very important to understand where PTH is produced and how it is regulated. Many people have been found to have ectopic and supernumerary parathyroid glands without clear ontogenesis. In addition, the thymus, which develops together with the parathyroid during embryogenesis, has been proposed to be an auxiliary source of PTH with endocrine function; however, PTH is also a tissue-restricted self-antigen expressed by the thymus. In this paper, we provide insights into the ontogeny and function of thymus-associated PTH. We found that ectopic and supernumerary parathyroid glands originate from the normal developmental process underlying the separation of parathyroid and thymus, resulting in misplaced parathyroids close or attached to thymus. In the thymus, thymic epithelial cells can produce a low level of PTH via a different mechanism than the parathyroid and provide functional data that TEC-derived PTH does not have endocrine function. In summary, our data show that the thymic source of PTH has no endocrine function and, instead, has an expression pattern in the thymus consistent with that of a self-antigen for negative selection.
PMCID: PMC3009658  PMID: 21203493
18.  X-ray irradiation selectively kills thymocytes of different stages and impairs the maturation of donor-derived CD4+CD8+ thymocytes in recipient thymus 
Journal of Biomedical Research  2012;26(5):355-364.
The aim of the present study was to determine whether the sensitivity of thymocytes to X-ray radiation depends on their proliferative states and whether radiation impairs the maturation of donor-derived thymocytes in recipient thymus. We assigned 8-week-old C57BL/6J mice into three treatment groups: 1) untreated; 2) X-ray radiation; 3) X-ray radiation plus bone marrow transplantation with donor bone marrow cells from transgenic mice expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (GFP) on a universal promoter. After 4 weeks, the size of the thymus, the number and proliferation of thymocytes and ratios of different stage thymocytes were analyzed by immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry. The results showed that: 1) CD4+CD8+ thymocytes were more sensitive to X-ray radiation-induced cell death than other thymocytes; 2) the proliferative capacity of CD4+CD8+ thymocytes was higher than that of other thymocytes; 3) the size of the thymus, the number of thymocytes and ratios of thymocytes of different stages in irradiated mice recovered to the normal level of untreated mice by bone marrow transplantation; 4) the ratio of GFP-positive CD4+CD8+ thymocytes increased significantly, whereas the ratio of GFP-positive CD4+ or CD8+ thymocytes decreased significantly. These results indicate that the degree of sensitivity of thymocytes to X-ray radiation depends on their proliferative states and radiation impairs the maturation of donor-derived CD4+CD8+ thymocytes in recipient thymus.
PMCID: PMC3613732  PMID: 23554771
thymus; radiation; CD4+CD8+ thymocytes; sensitivity; donor cells
Two new methods are described for making chromosomal spreads of single antibody-forming cells. The first depends on the controlled rupture of cells in small microdroplets through the use of a mild detergent and application of a mechanical stress on the cell. The second is a microadaptation of the conventional Ford technique. Both methods have a success rate of over 50%, though the quality of chromosomal spreads obtained is generally not as good as with conventional methods. These techniques have been applied to an analysis of cell to cell interaction in adoptive immune responses, using the full syngeneic transfer system provided by the use of CBA and CBA/T6T6 donor-recipient combinations. When neonatally thymectomized mice were restored to adequate immune responsiveness to sheep erythrocytes by injections of either thymus cells or thoracic duct lymphocytes, it was shown that all the actual dividing antibody-forming cells were not of donor but of host origin. When lethally irradiated mice were injected with chromosomally marked but syngeneic mixtures of thymus and bone marrow cells, a rather feeble adoptive immune response ensued; all the antibody-forming cells identified were of bone marrow origin. When mixtures of bone marrow cells and thoracic duct lymphocytes were used, immune restoration was much more effective, and over three-quarters of the antibody-forming mitotic figures carried the bone marrow donor chromosomal marker. The results were deemed to be consistent with the conclusions derived in the previous paper of this series, namely that thymus contains some, but a small number only of antigen-reactive cells (ARC), bone marrow contains antibody-forming cell precursors (AFCP) but no ARC, and thoracic duct lymph contains both ARC and AFCP with a probable predominance of the former. A vigorous immune response to sheep erythrocytes probably requires a collaboration between the two cell lineages, involving proliferation first of the ARC and then of the AFCP. The results stressed that the use of large numbers of pure thoracic duct lymphocytes in adoptive transfer work could lead to good adoptive immune responses, but that such results should not be construed as evidence against cell collaboration hypotheses. Some possible further uses of single cell chromosome techniques were briefly discussed.
PMCID: PMC2138549  PMID: 5691987
20.  T cell-dendritic cell immunological synapses contain TCR dependent CD28-CD80 clusters that recruit protein kinase C-θ 
Short-lived TCR microclusters and a longer-lived protein kinase C-θ (PKC-θ) focusing central supramolecular activation cluster (cSMAC) have been defined in model immunological synapses (IS). In different model systems, CD28 mediated costimulatory interactions have been detected in microclusters, the cSMAC, or segregated from the TCR forming multiple distinct foci. The relationship between TCR and costimulatory molecules in the physiological IS of T cell-dendritic cell (DC) is obscure. To study the dynamic relationship of CD28-CD80 and TCR interactions in the T cell-DC IS during antigen specific T cell activation, we generated CD80-eCFP mice using Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) transgenic (Tg) technology. In splenic DCs, endogenous CD80 and CD80-eCFP localized to plasma membrane and Golgi apparatus, and CD80-eCFP was functional in vivo. In the OT-II T cell-DC IS, multiple segregated TCR, CD80 and LFA-1 clusters were detected. In the T cell-DC synapse CD80 clusters were colocalized with CD28 and PKC-θ, a characteristic of the cSMAC. Acute blockade of TCR signaling with anti-MHC antibody resulted in a rapid reduction in Ca2+ signaling and the number and size of the CD80 clusters, a characteristic of TCR microclusters. Thus, the T cell-DC interface contains dynamic costimulatory foci that share characteristics of microclusters and cSMACs.
PMCID: PMC2556893  PMID: 18802089
Dendritic Cells; T cells; costimulation; immunological synapse
21.  Early Steps of a Thymic Tumor in SV40 Transgenic Mice: Hyperplasia of Medullary Epithelial Cells and Increased Mature Thymocyte Numbers Disturb Thymic Export 
Developmental Immunology  2002;9(4):223-231.
Bone marrow progenitors migrate to the thymus, where they proliferate and differentiate into immunologically competent T cells. In this report we show that mice transgenic for SV40 T and t antigens under the control of the L-pyruvate kinase promoter develop, in a first step, thymic hyperplasia of both thymocytes and epithelial cells. Morphological studies (histology, immunohistolabeling and electron microscopy) revealed modifications of the thymic microenvironment and gradual expansion of medullary epithelial cells in 1 month-old mice, taking over the cortical region. Then, a thymic carcinoma develops. Two-color labeling of frozen sections identified the transgene in medullary epithelial cells. Flow cytometry analysis demonstrated a marked increase in mature CD4+ and CD8+ thymocytes in adult mice (39±10×106 in transgenic mice and 12±5×106 in age-matched controls). Furthermore, thymocyte export was disturbed.
PMCID: PMC2276110  PMID: 15144019
22.  Thymus-autonomous T cell development in the absence of progenitor import 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  2012;209(8):1409-1417.
To be added
Thymus function is thought to depend on a steady supply of T cell progenitors from the bone marrow. The notion that the thymus lacks progenitors with self-renewal capacity is based on thymus transplantation experiments in which host-derived thymocytes replaced thymus-resident cells within 4 wk. Thymus grafting into T cell–deficient mice resulted in a wave of T cell export from the thymus, followed by colonization of the thymus by host-derived progenitors, and cessation of T cell development. Compound Rag2−/−γc−/−KitW/Wv mutants lack competitive hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and are devoid of T cell progenitors. In this study, using this strain as recipients for wild-type thymus grafts, we noticed thymus-autonomous T cell development lasting several months. However, we found no evidence for export of donor HSCs from thymus to bone marrow. A diverse T cell antigen receptor repertoire in progenitor-deprived thymus grafts implied that many thymocytes were capable of self-renewal. Although the process was most efficient in Rag2−/−γc−/−KitW/Wv hosts, γc-mediated signals alone played a key role in the competition between thymus-resident and bone marrow–derived progenitors. Hence, the turnover of each generation of thymocytes is not only based on short life span but is also driven via expulsion of resident thymocytes by fresh progenitors entering the thymus.
PMCID: PMC3420332  PMID: 22778389
23.  Studies of thymocytopoiesis in rats and mice. I. Kinetics of appearance of thymocytes using a direct intrathymic adoptive transfer assay for thymocyte precursors 
We describe a quantitative intrathymic (i.t.) adoptive transfer system for detecting thymocyte precursor cells in rats and mice. In this system, the generation of donor-origin thymocytes is analyzed on the FACS after the injection of test cells directly into the thymus of sublethally irradiated, histocompatible, RT-7 (rat) or Ly-1 (mouse) alloantigen-disparate recipients. Like the standard i.v. adoptive transfer assays for prothymocytes, the i.t. transfer assay is time, dose, and irradiation dependent. However, unlike the i.v. assays, the i.t. assay is highly sensitive, independent of cell migration, and specific for T-lineage precursor cells. Thus, the i.t. system requires between 25- and 50-fold fewer precursor cells than do the i.v. systems to generate a given number of donor-origin thymocytes; it detects nonmigratory as well as migratory subsets of precursor cells; it detects prethymic and intrathymic precursor cells with equal facility; and it produces a discrete, self-limited wave of donor-origin thymocytes and peripheral T cells. Moreover, neither hemopoietic nor lymphopoietic stem cell chimerism occurs at extrathymic sites. Comparison of the kinetics of thymocytopoiesis in the i.t. and i.v. transfer systems suggest that the seeding efficiency of prothymocytes in the i.v. assay approximates 0.04; the lag phase of the time-response curve is not due to a delay in the entry of prothymocytes into the thymus; and the relative amount of thymocyte precursor activity in various lymphohemopoietic tissues is highest in bone marrow, lowest (or absent) in lymph node, and intermediate in spleen, blood, and thymus. Moreover, the occurrence of saturation kinetics in the dose-response curve of the i.t. system supports the hypothesis that a finite number of microenvironmental niches for prothymocytes may exist in the thymus. These initial observations will require confirmation and extension in future studies. However, based on the present findings and related observations, we anticipate that the i.t. adoptive transfer system will contribute importantly to the definitive analysis of both normal and abnormal thymocytopoiesis.
PMCID: PMC2188012  PMID: 3510267
24.  Intrathymic presentation of circulating non-MHC antigens by medullary dendritic cells. An antigen-dependent microenvironment for T cell differentiation 
We present evidence for intrathymic presentation of soluble circulating antigens in vivo. Our results show that proteins of different molecular weight enter the mouse thymus rapidly after i.v. injection. The intrathymic presence of antigen was assayed by proliferation of cloned antigen-specific T helper cells, which were cocultured with purified thymic stromal cells; stromal cells were isolated and purified as lymphostromal cell complexes, which preexist in vivo. Antigen presentation copurified with non-adherent medullary dendritic cells (DC) (interdigitating cells). I-A- cortical macrophages forming thymocyte rosettes in vivo and I-A+ cortical epithelial cells forming thymic nurse cells (TNC) in vivo did not act as antigen presenting cells (APC) after antigen pulsing in vivo or in vitro. Thymic APC turn over physiologically and are rapidly replaced (within 2-5 wk) after lethal irradiation by donor bone marrow-derived cells. The frequency of thymocyte-DC interactions in vivo strictly correlates with thymic T cell differentiation, and is independent of the immune status of the animal. Fetal thymic APC seem to be secluded from antigen in the maternal circulation. Thymic DC-ROS probably represent the microenvironment where maturing T cells first encounter non-MHC antigens in the context of self-MHC antigens.
PMCID: PMC2188029  PMID: 3484777
This study shows that LPS is not mitogenic in cultures containing B cells, or B cells and accessory adherent cells or ME, unless T cells are present. This observation rules out models of induction of antibody synthesis in which it is assumed that the delivery of a mitogenic signal by the interaction of LPS with the membrane of the B cell is in itself sufficient for B-cell induction (19). Further, it makes unlikely the proposed extrapolation of such a model to other so-called thymus-independent antigens, e.g., PVP, levan, dextran, and SIII (19). The mitogenic action of LPS appears to be due to its ability to complete an inductive stimulus to B cells (13). We interpret the observed thymus dependence of the B-cell response to LPS in light of a model in which two signals are obligatory for B-cell induction (14). The first signal in the inductive pathway is delivered to the antigen-sensitive cell via a conformational change in the receptor upon interaction with antigen. The second signal is delivered via the thymus-derived cooperating system. Since LPS can induce immune responses to both immunogenic and nonimmunogenic ligands (9–13) we envision that one signal is delivered to the B cell via specific binding of the ligand to the B-cell antigen receptor, while a second signal is delivered as a result of T-cell cooperation via membrane-bound LPS. This has been termed abnormal induction (20). In this example LPS is the foreign membrane-bound determinant in question although histocompatibility antigens (21, 22), viral determinants, or surface bound lectins could act similarly. In light of the above model, one observation should be pointed out. LPS inhibits the induction of a SRBC response in normal Peyer's patch cells to which adherent cells or ME is added. This inhibition appears to be a T-cell-mediated effect because it is abolished by partial depletion of the T-cell population by antitheta treatment. Since the induction of IgM producing PFC is being measured, the T-cell-dependent LPS inhibition could act either (a) by induction of T-cell "suppression" (23, 24) of the normal cooperating system required for a SRBC response, or (b) by the induction of such high levels of cooperating function (13) as to be inhibitory to a SRBC IgM response. Our observations contrast sharply with prior reports which describe LPS as a thymus-independent antigen (2–4) and a B-cell mitogen (5–8) capable of stimulating immune responses in the absence of T-cell cooperation (2–12). This demonstration of the thymus dependence of LPS stimulation has been possible because Peyer's patches from congenitally athymic (nude) mice are functionally a highly purified B-cell population devoid of T cells and accessory adherent cells. In this respect, earlier studies relied on nude spleen cultures and spleen cultures from thymectomized, lethally irradiated, and bone marrow-reconstituted mice (3, 4, 6–13). These spleen cultures which contain B cells and accessory adherent cells are recognized to be deficient but not devoid of the thymus-derived contribution to the inductive stimulus (12, 13). It could be argued that the presence of T cells and adherent cells is in fact required for the antigen-specific effect and not for the LPS effect. However, this is unlikely since our experiments show that LPS is not directly mitogenic for B cells and does not stimulate background anti-SRBC PFC. It seems unlikely that Peyer's patch antigen-sensitive cells differ from antigen-sensitive cells in the spleen in their mechanism of induction. We have shown that Peyer's patch B cells can be specifically induced by antigen, and Peyer's patch T cells mediate cooperating and killer functions. Alternately, the possibility that Peyer's patch B cells were not stimulated by LPS as a result of prior cryptic exposure to LPS (13) in the intestinal tract was excluded since cultures containing B cells, T cells, and adherent cells or ME were stimulated to DNA synthesis by LPS. The reason that certain antigens appear to be thymus independent may be that their repeating polymeric nature permits inductive interactions at very low levels of thymus-derived cooperation (see reference 20 for quantitative considerations). It has been stated that the inductive properties of all thymus-independent antigens are directly related to their ability to act as B-cell mitogens (19). The observation that LPS is thymus dependent for its B-cell mitogenic activity makes us question the thymus independence of any antigen.
PMCID: PMC2139528  PMID: 4589992

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