Progressive immune deficiency of aging is characterized by severe thymic atrophy, contracted T cell repertoire, and poor immune function. p63 is critical for the proliferative potential of embryonic and adult stem cells, as well as thymic epithelial cells (TECs). Because p63 null mice experience rapid post-natal lethality due to epidermal and limb morphogenesis defects, studies to define a role for p63 expression in TEC biology focused on embryonic thymus development and in vitro experiments. Since post-natal thymic stromal development and function differs from that of the embryo, we assessed the impact of lineage-restricted p63 loss on pre- and post-natal murine TEC function by generating mice with a loss of p63 function targeted to TEC, termed p63TECko mice. In adult p63TECko mice, severe thymic hypoplasia was observed with a lack in a discernable segregation into medullary and cortical compartments and peripheral T cell lymphopenia. This profound thymic defect was seen in both neonatal as well as embryonic p63TECko mice. In addition to TECs, p63 also plays in important role in the development of stratified epithelium of the skin; lack of p63 results in defects in skin epidermal stratification and differentiation. Interestingly, all adult p63TECko mice lacked hair follicles despite having normal p63 expression in the skin. Together our results show a critical role of TEC p63 in thymic development and maintenance and show that p63 expression is critical for hair follicle formation.
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© 2022 Stefanski et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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