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Adult thymic epithelium contains nonsenescent label-retaining cells.

Dumont-Lagacé M, Brochu S, St-Pierre C, Perreault C

Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3C 3J7.

Progress in our understanding of thymic epithelial cell (TEC) renewal and homeostasis is hindered by the lack of markers for TEC progenitors. Stem and progenitor cell populations display remarkable diversity in their proliferative behavior. In some but not all tissues, stemness is associated with quiescence. The primary goal of our study was to discover whether quiescent cells were present in neonatal and adult TECs. To this end, we used a transgenic label-retaining cell (LRC) assay in which a histone H2B-GFP fusion protein is expressed under the control of the reverse tetracycline-controlled transactivator and the tetracycline operator minimal promoter. In adult mice, we found that both cortical and medullary TECs (cTECs and mTECs) proliferated more actively in females than males. Moreover, we observed three main differences between neonatal and adult TECs: 1) neonatal TECs proliferated more actively than adult TECs; 2) whereas cTECs and mTECs had similar turnover rates in young mice, the turnover of mTECs was more rapid than that of cTECs in adults; and 3) although no LRCs could be detected in young mice, LRCs were detectable after a 16-wk chase in adults. In female mice, LRCs were found almost exclusively among cTECs and expressed relatively low levels of p16INK4a, p19ARF, and Serpine1, and high levels of Bmi1, Foxn1, Trp63, and Wnt4. We conclude that LRCs in adult TECs are not senescent postmitotic cells and may represent the elusive progenitors responsible for TEC maintenance in the adult thymus.

J. Immunol. 2014;192(5):2219-26.

Pubmed ID: 24477909

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