European Journal of Immunology vol:45 issue:5 pages:1535-47
The thymus is the organ devoted to T-cell production. The thymus undergoes multiple rounds of atrophy and redevelopment before degenerating with age in a process known as involution. This process is poorly understood, despite the influence the phenomenon has on peripheral T-cell numbers. Here we have investigated the FVB/N mouse strain, which displays premature thymic involution. We find multiple architectural and cellular features that precede thymic involution, including disruption of the epithelial-endothelial relationship and a progressive loss of pro-T cells. The architectural features, reminiscent of the human thymus, are intrinsic to the nonhematopoietic compartment and are neither necessary nor sufficient for thymic involution. By contrast, the loss of pro-T cells is intrinsic to the hematopoietic compartment, and is sufficient to drive premature involution. These results identify pro-T-cell loss as the main driver of premature thymic involution, and highlight the plasticity of the thymic stroma, capable of maintaining function across diverse interstrain architectures.