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Wnt4 regulates thymic cellularity through the expansion of thymic epithelial cells and early thymic progenitors.

Heinonen KM, Vanegas JR, Brochu S, Shan J, Vainio SJ, Perreault C

Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, Université de Montréal, QC, Canada.

Thymus atrophy is the most common immunopathology in humans, and its occurrence is hastened by several factors that coalesce in patients receiving chemotherapy and most of all in recipients of hematopoietic cell transplantation. We have shown previously that posthematopoietic cell transplantation thymic function was improved by retroviral overexpression of Wnt4 in donor hematopoietic cells. Here, by using both conventional and conditional null mutant mice, we show that Wnt4 regulates steady-state thymic cellularity by a thymic epithelial cell (TEC)-dependent mechanism. The absence of Wnt4 suppressed fetal and postnatal thymic expansion and resulted in decreased TEC numbers, an alteration of the medullary-to-cortical TEC ratio, and a disproportionate loss of the most immature cKit(hi) thymocyte precursors. Wnt4 also is implicated in the maintenance of adult thymopoiesis, although the impact of its deletion once thymic involution has been initiated is more subtle. Together, our results show that Wnt4 controls thymic size by modulating TEC expansion and the earliest, TEC-dependent steps of thymocyte development both in the fetal and postnatal thymus. Wnt4 and its downstream signaling pathways could thus represent interesting candidates to improve thymic output in subjects with thymic atrophy.

Blood 2011;118(19):5163-73.

Pubmed ID: 21937690

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