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Klf4 protects thymus integrity during late pregnancy.

Pregnancy causes abrupt thymic atrophy. This atrophy is characterized by a severe decrease in the number of all thymocyte subsets and qualitative (but not quantitative) changes in thymic epithelial cells (TECs). Pregnancy-related thymic involution is triggered by progesterone-induced functional changes affecting mainly cortical TECs (cTECs). Remarkably, this severe involution is rapidly corrected following parturition. We postulated that understanding the mechanisms of pregnancy-related thymic changes could provide novel insights into signaling pathways regulating TEC function. When we analyzed genes whose expression in TECs was modified during late pregnancy, we found a strong enrichment in genes bearing KLF4 transcription factor binding motifs. We, therefore, engineered a Psmb11-iCre : Klf4 mouse model to study the impact of TEC-specific Klf4 deletion in steady-state conditions and during late pregnancy. Under steady-state conditions, Klf4 deletion had a minimal effect on TEC subsets and did not affect thymic architecture. However, pregnancy-induced thymic involution was much more pronounced in pregnant females lacking Klf4 expression in TECs. These mice displayed a substantial ablation of TECs with a more pronounced loss of thymocytes. Transcriptomic and phenotypic analyses of Klf4 -/- TECs revealed that Klf4 maintains cTEC numbers by supporting cell survival and preventing epithelial-to-mesenchymal plasticity during late pregnancy. We conclude that Klf4 is essential for preserving TEC’s integrity and mitigating thymic involution during late pregnancy.

Date de publication
1er janvier 2023
Depoërs L, Dumont-Lagacé M, Trinh VQ, Houques C, Côté C, Larouche JD, Brochu S, Perreault C
Référence PubMed
Front Immunol 2023;14:1016378
ID PubMed
Department of Medicine, Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, Canada.