Isolation, identification, and purification of murine thymic epithelial cells

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The thymus is a vital organ for T lymphocyte development. Of thymic stromal cells, thymic epithelial cells (TECs) are particularly crucial at multiple stages of T cell development: T cell commitment, positive selection and negative selection. However, the function of TECs in the thymus remains incompletely understood. In the article, we provide a method to isolate TEC subsets from fresh mouse thymus using a combination of mechanical disruption and enzymatic digestion. The method allows thymic stromal cells and thymocytes to be efficiently released from cell-cell and cell-extracellular matrix connections and to form a single-cell suspension. Using the isolated cells, multiparameter flow cytometry can be applied to identification and characterization of TECs and dendritic cells. Because TECs are a rare cell population in the thymus, we also describe an effective way to enrich and purify TECs by depleting thymocytes, the most abundant cell type in the thymus. Following the enrichment, cell sorting time can be decreased so that loss of cell viability can be minimized during purification of TECs. Purified cells are suitable for various downstream analyses like Real Time-PCR, Western blot and gene expression profiling. The protocol will promote research of TEC function and as well as the development of in vitro T cell reconstitution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere51780
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number90
StatePublished - Aug 8 2014


  • Immunology
  • Isolation
  • Issue 90
  • Positive selection
  • T cell development
  • Thymic epithelial cell
  • Thymus


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