Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950)

Foxn1 Protein Expression in the Developing, Aging, and Regenerating Thymus.

PMID 26538393


The forkhead box N1 (Foxn1) protein is the key regulator of thymic epithelial cell (TEC) development, yet how Foxn1 functions remains largely unknown. All mature TECs arise from Foxn1-expressing progenitors/immature TECs and it is widely assumed that TECs as a whole are defined by Foxn1 expression. However, data on the Foxn1 protein are virtually lacking. In this study, we developed novel tools to visualize Foxn1 protein expression at single-cell resolution. We generated Foxn1 knock-in mice expressing a C-terminal hemagglutinin-tagged Foxn1 protein, and a cytometry-grade monoclonal anti-Foxn1 Ab. We evaluated Foxn1 expression patterns in TEC subsets and its dynamics during normal thymus development, aging, injury, and regeneration. Upon challenges, upregulation of Foxn1 was a common feature of thymus regeneration, but the timing of Foxn1 expression changed and the responding TEC subsets depended on the type of treatment. Whereas dexamethasone and recombinant human fibroblast growth factor 7 promoted expansion of Foxn1(+)Ly51(+)CD80(-) TECs, castration led to expansion of Foxn1(+)Ly51(-)CD80(+) TECs. Collectively, Foxn1 expression is highly heterogeneous in the normal thymus, with large fractions of Foxn1(low) or Foxn1(-) TECs accumulating with age. Furthermore, Foxn1 expression is responsive to perturbations.

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