A key role for IL-7R in the generation of microenvironments required for thymic dendritic cells

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Interleukin-7 receptor (IL-7R) signaling is critical for multiple stages of T-cell development, but a role in the establishment of the mature thymic architecture needed for T-cell development and thymocyte selection has not been established. Crosstalk signals between developing thymocytes and thymic epithelial cell (TEC) precursors are critical for their differentiation into cortical TECs (cTECs) and medullary TECs (mTECs). In addition, mTEC-derived factors have been implicated in the recruitment of thymic dendritic cells (DCs) and intrathymic DC development. We therefore examined corticomedullary structure and DC populations in the thymus ofIl7r-/-mice. Analysis of TEC phenotype and spatial organization revealed a striking shift in the mTEC to cTEC ratio, accompanied by disorganized corticomedullary structure. Several of the thymic subsets known to have DC potential were nearly absent, accompanied by reductions in DC cell numbers. We also examined chemokine expression in theIl7r-/-thymus, and found a significant decrease in mTEC-derived CCR7 ligand expression, and high levels of cTEC-derived chemokines, including CCL25 and CXCL12. Although splenic DCs were similarly affected, bone marrow (BM) precursors capable of giving rise to DCs were unperturbed. Finally, BM chimeras showed that there was no intrinsic need for IL-7R signaling in the development or recruitment of thymic DCs, but that the provision of wild-type progenitors enhanced reconstitution of thymic DCs fromIl7r-/-progenitors. Our results are therefore supportive of a model in whichIl7r-dependent cells are required to set up the microenvironments that allow accumulation of thymic DCs.

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