MTORC1 in Thymic Epithelial Cells Is Critical for Thymopoiesis, T-Cell Generation, and Temporal Control of ??T17 Development and TCR?/? Recombination.
ABSTRACT: Thymus is crucial for generation of a diverse repertoire of T cells essential for adaptive immunity. Although thymic epithelial cells (TECs) are crucial for thymopoiesis and T cell generation, how TEC development and function are controlled is poorly understood. We report here that mTOR complex 1 (mTORC1) in TECs plays critical roles in thymopoiesis and thymus function. Acute deletion of mTORC1 in adult mice caused severe thymic involution. TEC-specific deficiency of mTORC1 (mTORC1KO) impaired TEC maturation and function such as decreased expression of thymotropic chemokines, decreased medullary TEC to cortical TEC ratios, and altered thymic architecture, leading to severe thymic atrophy, reduced recruitment of early thymic progenitors, and impaired development of virtually all T-cell lineages. Strikingly, temporal control of IL-17-producing ??T (??T17) cell differentiation and TCRV?/? recombination in fetal thymus is lost in mTORC1KO thymus, leading to elevated ??T17 differentiation and rearranging of fetal specific TCRV?/? in adulthood. Thus, mTORC1 is central for TEC development/function and establishment of thymic environment for proper T cell development, and modulating mTORC1 activity can be a strategy for preventing thymic involution/atrophy.
Project description:Leptin deficiency in mice results in chronic thymic atrophy, suppressed cell-mediated immunity, and decreased numbers of total lymphocytes, suggesting a key role for the metabolic hormone leptin in regulating thymopoiesis and overall immune homeostasis. Unfortunately, the thymus is highly susceptible to stress-induced acute involution. Prolonged thymus atrophy in stress situations can contribute to peripheral T cell deficiency or inhibit immune reconstitution. Little is known, however, about specific roles for leptin signaling in the thymus or the underlying mechanisms driving thymic involution or thymic recovery after acute stress. We report here that leptin receptor expression is restricted in thymus to medullary epithelial cells. Using a model of endotoxemia-induced acute thymic involution and recovery, we have demonstrated a role for supraphysiologic leptin in protection of thymic epithelial cells (TECs). We also present data in support of our hypothesis that leptin treatment decreases in vivo endotoxemia-induced apoptosis of double positive thymocytes and promotes proliferation of double negative thymocytes through a leptin receptor isoform b-specific mechanism. Furthermore, our studies have revealed that leptin treatment increases thymic expression of interleukin-7, an important soluble thymocyte growth factor produced by medullary TECs. Taken together, these studies support an intrathymic role for the metabolic hormone leptin in maintaining healthy thymic epithelium and promoting thymopoiesis, which is revealed when thymus homeostasis is perturbed by endotoxemia.
Project description:Age-related thymic involution is characterized by a decrease in thymic epithelial cell (TEC) number and function parallel to a disruption in their spatial organization, resulting in defective thymocyte development and proliferation as well as peripheral T cell dysfunction. Deficiency of Klotho, an antiaging gene and modifier of fibroblast growth factor signaling, causes premature aging. To investigate the role of Klotho in accelerated age-dependent thymic involution, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of thymopoiesis and peripheral T cell homeostasis using Klotho-deficient (Kl/Kl) mice. At 8 wk of age, Kl/Kl mice displayed a severe reduction in the number of thymocytes (10-100-fold reduction), especially CD4 and CD8 double-positive cells, and a reduction of both cortical and medullary TECs. To address a cell-autonomous role for Klotho in TEC biology, we implanted neonatal thymi from Klotho-deficient and -sufficient mice into athymic hosts. Kl/Kl thymus grafts supported thymopoiesis equivalently to Klotho-sufficient thymus transplants, indicating that Klotho is not intrinsically essential for TEC support of thymopoiesis. Moreover, lethally irradiated hosts given Kl/Kl or wild-type bone marrow had normal thymocyte development and comparably reconstituted T cells, indicating that Klotho is not inherently essential for peripheral T cell reconstitution. Because Kl/Kl mice have higher levels of serum phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin D, we evaluated thymus function in Kl/Kl mice fed with a vitamin D-deprived diet. We observed that a vitamin D-deprived diet abrogated thymic involution and T cell lymphopenia in 8-wk-old Kl/Kl mice. Taken together, our data suggest that Klotho deficiency causes thymic involution via systemic effects that include high active vitamin D levels.
Project description:Thymic involution is central to the decline in immune system function that occurs with age. By regenerating the thymus, it may therefore be possible to improve the ability of the aged immune system to respond to novel antigens. Recently, diminished expression of the thymic epithelial cell (TEC)-specific transcription factor Forkhead box N1 (FOXN1) has been implicated as a component of the mechanism regulating age-related involution. The effects of upregulating FOXN1 function in the aged thymus are, however, unknown. Here, we show that forced, TEC-specific upregulation of FOXN1 in the fully involuted thymus of aged mice results in robust thymus regeneration characterized by increased thymopoiesis and increased naive T cell output. We demonstrate that the regenerated organ closely resembles the juvenile thymus in terms of architecture and gene expression profile, and further show that this FOXN1-mediated regeneration stems from an enlarged TEC compartment, rebuilt from progenitor TECs. Collectively, our data establish that upregulation of a single transcription factor can substantially reverse age-related thymic involution, identifying FOXN1 as a specific target for improving thymus function and, thus, immune competence in patients. More widely, they demonstrate that organ regeneration in an aged mammal can be directed by manipulation of a single transcription factor, providing a provocative paradigm that may be of broad impact for regenerative biology.
Project description:The postnatal thymus is the primary source of T cells in vertebrates, and many if not all stages of thymocyte development require interactions with thymic epithelial cells (TECs). The Foxn1 gene is a key regulator of TEC differentiation, and is required for multiple aspects of fetal TEC differentiation. Foxn1 is also expressed in the postnatal thymus, but its function after birth is unknown. We generated a Foxn1 allele with normal fetal expression and thymus development, but decreased expression in the postnatal thymus. This down-regulation causes rapid thymic compartment degeneration and reduced T-cell production. TEC subsets that express higher Foxn1 levels are most sensitive to its down-regulation, in particular MHCII(hi)UEA-1(hi) medullary TECs. The requirement for Foxn1 is extremely dosage sensitive, with small changes in Foxn1 levels having large effects on thymus phenotypes. Our results provide the first evidence that Foxn1 is required to maintain the postnatal thymus. Furthermore, the similarities of this phenotype to accelerated aging-related thymic involution support the possibility that changes in Foxn1 expression in TECs during aging contribute to the mechanism of involution.
Project description:Age-associated systemic, chronic inflammation is partially attributed to increased self-autoreactivity, resulting from disruption of central tolerance in the aged, involuted thymus. This involution causally results from gradually decreased expression of the transcription factor FOXN1 in thymic epithelial cells (TECs), whereas exogenous FOXN1 in TECs can partially rescue age-related thymic involution. TECs induced from FOXN1-overexpressing embryonic fibroblasts can generate an ectopic de novo thymus under the kidney capsule, and intrathymic injection of naturally young TECs can lead to middle-aged thymus regrowth. Therefore, as a thymic rejuvenation strategy, we extended these 2 findings by combining them with 2 types of promoter-driven (Rosa26CreERT and FoxN1Cre) Cre-mediated FOXN1-reprogrammed embryonic fibroblasts (FREFs). We engrafted these FREFs directly into the aged murine thymus. We found substantial regrowth of the native aged thymus with rejuvenated architecture and function in both males and females, exhibiting increased thymopoiesis and reinforced thymocyte negative selection, along with reduced senescent T cells and autoreactive T cell-mediated inflammation in old mice. Therefore, this approach has preclinical significance and presents a strategy to potentially rescue decreased thymopoiesis and perturbed negative selection to substantially, albeit partially, restore defective central tolerance and reduce subclinical autoimmune symptoms in elderly people.
Project description:Most epithelial tissues retain stem/progenitor cells to maintain homeostasis of the adult tissues; however, the existence of a thymic epithelial cell (TEC) progenitor capable of maintaining homeostasis of the postnatal thymus remains unclear. Here, we show that a cell population expressing high levels of Meis1, a homeodomain transcription factor, is enriched in TECs with an immature cellular phenotype. These TECs selectively express genes involved in embryonic thymic organogenesis and epithelial stem cell maintenance, and also have the potential to proliferate and differentiate into mature TEC populations. Furthermore, postnatal inactivation of Meis1 in TECs caused disorganization of the thymic architecture, which ultimately leads to premature disappearance of the thymus. There was an age-associated reduction in the proportion of the TEC population expressing high levels of Meis1, which may also be related to thymic involution. These findings indicate that Meis1 is potentially involved in the maintenance of postnatal TECs with progenitor activity that is required for homeostasis of the postnatal thymus.
Project description:During gestation, sex hormones cause a significant thymic involution which enhances fertility. This thymic involution is rapidly corrected following parturition. As thymic epithelial cells (TECs) are responsible for the regulation of thymopoiesis, we analyzed the sequential phenotypic and transcriptomic changes in TECs during the postpartum period in order to identify mechanisms triggering postpartum thymic regeneration. In particular, we performed flow cytometry analyses and deep RNA-sequencing on purified TEC subsets at several time points before and after parturition. We report that pregnancy-induced involution is not caused by loss of TECs since their number does not change during or after pregnancy. However, during pregnancy, we observed a significant depletion of all thymocyte subsets downstream of the double-negative 1 (DN1) differentiation stage. Variations in thymocyte numbers correlated with conspicuous changes in the transcriptome of cortical TECs (cTECs). The transcriptomic changes affected predominantly cTEC expression of Foxn1, its targets and several genes that are essential for thymopoiesis. By contrast, medullary TECs (mTECs) showed very little transcriptomic changes in the early postpartum regenerative phase, but seemed to respond to the expansion of single-positive (SP) thymocytes in the late phase of regeneration. Together, these results show that postpartum thymic regeneration is orchestrated by variations in expression of a well-defined subset of cTEC genes, that occur very early after parturition.
Project description:The thymus reaches its maximum size early in life and then begins to shrink, producing fewer T cells with increasing age. This thymic decline is thought to contribute to age-related T cell lymphopenias and hinder T cell recovery after bone marrow transplantation. Although several cellular and molecular processes have been implicated in age-related thymic involution, their relative contributions are not known. Using heterochronic parabiosis, we observe that young circulating factors are not sufficient to drive regeneration of the aged thymus. In contrast, we find that resupplying young, engraftable thymic epithelial cells (TECs) to a middle-aged or defective thymus leads to thymic growth and increased T cell production. Intrathymic transplantation and in vitro colony-forming assays reveal that the engraftment and proliferative capacities of TECs diminish early in life, whereas the receptivity of the thymus to TEC engraftment remains relatively constant with age. These results support a model in which thymic growth and subsequent involution are driven by cell-intrinsic changes in the proliferative capacity of TECs, and further show that young TECs can engraft and directly drive the growth of involuted thymuses.
Project description:The thymus represents the "cradle" for T cell development, with thymic stroma providing multiple soluble and membrane cues to developing thymocytes. Although IL-7 is recognized as an essential factor for thymopoiesis, the "environmental niche" of thymic IL-7 activity remains poorly characterized in vivo. Using bacterial artificial chromosome transgenic mice in which YFP is under control of IL-7 promoter, we identify a subset of thymic epithelial cells (TECs) that co-express YFP and high levels of Il7 transcripts (IL-7(hi) cells). IL-7(hi) TECs arise during early fetal development, persist throughout life, and co-express homeostatic chemokines (Ccl19, Ccl25, Cxcl12) and cytokines (Il15) that are critical for normal thymopoiesis. In the adult thymus, IL-7(hi) cells localize to the cortico-medullary junction and display traits of both cortical and medullary TECs. Interestingly, the frequency of IL-7(hi) cells decreases with age, suggesting a mechanism for the age-related thymic involution that is associated with declining IL-7 levels. Our temporal-spatial analysis of IL-7-producing cells in the thymus in vivo suggests that thymic IL-7 levels are dynamically regulated under distinct physiological conditions. This IL-7 reporter mouse provides a valuable tool to further dissect the mechanisms that govern thymic IL-7 expression in vivo.
Project description:Thymic epithelial cells (TECs) play important roles in T cell generation. Mechanisms that control TEC development and function are still not well defined. The mammalian or mechanistic target of rapamycin complex (mTORC)2 signals to regulate cell survival, nutrient uptake, and metabolism. We report in the present study that mice with TEC-specific ablation of Rictor, a critical and unique adaptor molecule in mTORC2, display thymic atrophy, which accompanies decreased TEC numbers in the medulla. Moreover, generation of multiple T cell lineages, including conventional TCR?? T cells, regulatory T cells, invariant NKT cells, and TCR?? T cells, was reduced in TEC-specific Rictor-deficient mice. Our data demonstrate that mTORC2 in TECs is important for normal thymopoiesis and efficient T cell generation.