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J Immunol. 2005 Jan 15;174(2):846-53.

Matrix metalloproteinase-9 in macrophages induces thymic neovascularization following thymocyte apoptosis.

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  • 1Department of Safety Research on Blood and Biological Products, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Tokyo, Japan.


Matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) has been implicated in the degradation of the extracellular matrix in a variety of physiological and pathological processes. We found that MMP-9 expression in thymuses of BALB/c mice that had been injected with anti-CD3 Ab to induce thymocyte apoptosis was increased both at mRNA and protein levels. Macrophages are shown to be the principal stromal cells responsible for phagocytosis of dying thymocytes, and macrophages were found to constitutively express MMP-9. The activity of plasmin, which is known as one of the activators for MMP-9, was increased in the thymuses with MMP-9 activation. Binding of Ab HUIV26, which recognizes a cryptic epitope on collagen type IV following proteolytic cleavage, was found to be reduced in MMP-9 knockout mice, suggesting that collagen type IV is a substrate of MMP-9. Although the formation of thymic neovessels was found following thymocyte apoptosis, it was diminished in anti-CD3 Ab-injected MMP-9 knockout mice. In vivo administration of Ab HUIV26 resulted in a reduction of thymic neovascularization. After clearance of apoptotic thymocytes, the number of macrophages in the thymuses was decreased, and this decrease was delayed by blocking of HUIV26 epitope. Taken together, our results suggest that MMP-9 expression in macrophages mediates degradation of collagen type IV and facilitates their migration from the thymus after clearance of apoptotic thymocytes. These studies demonstrate a potential role of macrophage MMP-9 in the remodeling of thymic extracellular matrix following thymocyte apoptosis.

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