Expression and splicing of Ikaros family members in murine and human thymocytes

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The Ikaros family of transcription factors includes five highly homologous members that can homodimerize or heterodimerize in any combination. Dimerization is essential for their ability to bind DNA and function as transcription factors. Previous studies showed that eliminating the function of the entire family blocks lymphocyte development while deletion of individual family members has relatively minor defects. These data indicate that multiple family members function during T cell development, so we examined the changes in expression of each family member as thymocytes progressed from the CD4−CD8− double negative (DN) to the CD4+CD8+ double positive (DP) developmental stage. Further, we compared the expression of each family member in murine and human thymocytes. In both species, Ikaros and Aiolos mRNA levels increased as thymocytes progressed through the DN to DP transition, but the corresponding increases in protein levels were only observed in mice. Further, Ikaros and Aiolos underwent extensive alternative splicing in mice, whereas only Ikaros was extensively spliced in humans. Helios mRNA and protein levels decreased during murine T cell development, but increased during human T cell development. These differences in the expression and splicing of Ikaros family members between human and murine thymocytes strongly suggest that the Ikaros family of transcription factors regulates murine and human T cell development differently, although the similarities across Ikaros family members may allow different proteins to fulfill similar functions.

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