Relb acts downstream of medullary thymic epithelial stem cells and is essential for the emergence of RANK(+) medullary epithelial progenitors

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Thymic epithelial cells (TECs) provide essential signals for αβT-cell development, and medullary TECs (mTECs) control T-cell tolerance through both negative selection and Foxp3(+) Regulatory T (Treg)-cell development. Although heterogeneity within the mTEC compartment is well studied, the molecular regulators of specific stages of mTEC development are still poorly understood. Given the importance of the RANK-RANKL axis in thymus medulla formation, we have used RANK Venus reporter mice to analyse the ontogeny of RANK(+) TECs during development, and correlated RANK expression with mTEC stem cells defined by SSEA1. In addition, we have investigated how requirements for the key regulators Foxn1 and Relb map to specific stages of mTEC development. Here, we show SSEA-1(+) mTEC stem cells emerge prior to RANK expression and are present in both nude and Relb(-/-) mice, providing direct evidence that mTEC lineage specification occurs independently of Foxn1 and Relb. In contrast, we show that Relb is necessary for the effective production of downstream RANK(+) mTEC progenitors. Collectively, our work defines stage-specific requirements for critical TEC regulators during medulla development, including the timing of Relb dependency, and provides new information on mechanisms controlling mTEC specification. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Bibliographic note

Being published under Wiley OnlineOpen


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857–862
JournalEuropean Journal of Immunology
Issue number4
Early online date25 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2016


  • Foxn1, Stem cell, Thymic epithelium, Thymic microenvironments, Thymus, TNF receptor superfamily