Delayed maturation of thymic epithelium in mice with specific deletion of β-catenin gene in FoxN1 positive cells

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Wnt signalling pathways have been reported to be involved in thymus development but their precise role in the development of both thymic epithelium (TE) and thymocytes is controversial. Herein, we examined embryonic, postnatal and adult thymi of mice with a specifc deletion of β-catenin gene in FoxN1+ thymic epithelial cells (TECs). Together with a high postnatal mouse mortality, the analysis showed severe thymic hypocellularity, largely due an important reduction in numbers of developing thymocytes, and delayed, partially blocked maturation of mutant TECs. Afected TECs included largely cortical (c) TEC subsets, such as immature MTS20+ TECs, Ly51+ cTECs and a remarkable, rare Ly51+MTS20+MHCIIhi cell subpopulation previously reported to contain thymic epithelial progenitor cells (TEPCs) (Ulyanchenko et al., Cell Rep 14:2819–2832, 2016). In addition, altered postnatal organization of mutant thymic medulla failed to organize a unique, central epithelial area. This delayed maturation of TE cell components correlated with low transcript production of some molecules reported to be masters for TEC maturation, such as EphB2, EphB3 and RANK. Changes in the thymic lymphoid component became particularly evident after birth, when molecules expressed by TECs and involved in early T-cell maturation, such as CCL25, CXCL12 and Dll4, exhibited minimal values. This represented a partial blockade of the progression of DN to DP cells and reduced proportions of this last thymocyte subset. At 1 month, in correlation with a signifcant increase in transcript production, the DP cell percentage increased in correlation with a signifcant fall in the number of mature TCRαβhi thymocytes and peripheral T lymphocytes.
CRUE-CSIC (Acuerdos Transformativos 2021)