L Hunziker, SA Benitah, KM Braun, K Jensen, K McNulty, C Butler, E Potton, E Nye, R Boyd, G Laurent, M Glogauer, NA Wright, FM Watt, SM Janes
The thymic stroma supports T lymphocyte development and consists of an epithelium maintained by thymic epithelial progenitors. The molecular pathways that govern epithelial homeostasis are poorly understood. Here we demonstrate that deletion of Rac1 in Keratin 5/Keratin 14 expressing embryonic and adult thymic epithelial cells leads to loss of the thymic epithelial compartment. Rac1 deletion led to an increase in c-Myc expression and a generalized increase in apoptosis associated with a decrease in thymic epithelial proliferation. Our results suggest Rac1 maintains the epithelial population, and equilibrium between Rac1 and c-Myc may control proliferation, apoptosis and maturation of the thymic epithelial compartment. Understanding thymic epithelial maintenance is a step toward the dual goals of in vitro thymic epithelial cell culture and T cell differentiation, and the clinical repair of thymic damage from graft-versus-host-disease, chemotherapy or irradiation.