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Immunol Rev. 2016 May;271(1):72-97. doi: 10.1111/imr.12417.

Hematopoiesis and T-cell specification as a model developmental system.

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Division of Biology & Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA.


The pathway to generate T cells from hematopoietic stem cells guides progenitors through a succession of fate choices while balancing differentiation progression against proliferation, stage to stage. Many elements of the regulatory system that controls this process are known, but the requirement for multiple, functionally distinct transcription factors needs clarification in terms of gene network architecture. Here, we compare the features of the T-cell specification system with the rule sets underlying two other influential types of gene network models: first, the combinatorial, hierarchical regulatory systems that generate the orderly, synchronized increases in complexity in most invertebrate embryos; second, the dueling 'master regulator' systems that are commonly used to explain bistability in microbial systems and in many fate choices in terminal differentiation. The T-cell specification process shares certain features with each of these prevalent models but differs from both of them in central respects. The T-cell system is highly combinatorial but also highly dose-sensitive in its use of crucial regulatory factors. The roles of these factors are not always T-lineage-specific, but they balance and modulate each other's activities long before any mutually exclusive silencing occurs. T-cell specification may provide a new hybrid model for gene networks in vertebrate developmental systems.


commitment; gene regulatory networks; lineage hierarchy; transcription factors

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