Thymic epithelial cells are indispensable in the development of T cells but little is known about precursor-progeny relationships between distinct thymic epithelial lineages. In June 17 Advanced Online Nature Immunology, Jason Gill and colleagues from Monash University Medical School, Melbourne, Australia, describe a thymic epithelial cell subpopulation that can fully reconstitute the complex thymic epithelial microenvironment (Nat Immunol 2002, DOI:10.1038/ni812).

Gill et al. used murine embryos at various gestational ages and observed that the differential expression of the glycoprotein MTS24 exclusively defines a subpopulation of embryonic thymic epithelial cells. These cells contained epithelial progenitor cells that were competent and sufficient to fully reconstitute the complex thymic epithelial microenvironment that supported normal T cell development.

These type of progenitors of thymic epithelial cells may be useful for the reconstitution of the immune function in disease states characterized by thymic hypoplasia and are ideal targets for gene therapy....

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