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Development. 2013 May;140(9):2015-26. doi: 10.1242/dev.087320.

Dynamics of thymus organogenesis and colonization in early human development.

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MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, Institute for Stem Cell Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, CRM Building, 5 Little France Drive, Edinburgh..


The thymus is the central site of T-cell development and thus is of fundamental importance to the immune system, but little information exists regarding molecular regulation of thymus development in humans. Here we demonstrate, via spatial and temporal expression analyses, that the genetic mechanisms known to regulate mouse thymus organogenesis are conserved in humans. In addition, we provide molecular evidence that the human thymic epithelium derives solely from the third pharyngeal pouch, as in the mouse, in contrast to previous suggestions. Finally, we define the timing of onset of hematopoietic cell colonization and epithelial cell differentiation in the human thymic primordium, showing, unexpectedly, that the first colonizing hematopoietic cells are CD45(+)CD34(int/-). Collectively, our data provide essential information for translation of principles established in the mouse to the human, and are of particular relevance to development of improved strategies for enhancing immune reconstitution in patients.

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