Enhanced isolation of adult thymic epithelial cell subsets for multiparameter flow cytometry and gene expression analysis

School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced, 5200 North Lake Road, Merced, CA 95340, USA.
Journal of immunological methods (Impact Factor: 1.82). 02/2011; 367(1-2):85-94. DOI: 10.1016/j.jim.2011.02.008
Source: PubMed


The epithelial cells (TECs) are microenvironmental niche cells which support T lymphocyte development in the thymus. Most studies of TEC biology have focused on TEC at the fetal stage of development, whereas the biology of adult-stage TECs is not as well-understood. Delineating the molecular mechanisms that control adult TEC differentiation has implications for the success of T-lymphocyte based therapies for autoimmune diseases and induction of immunological tolerance to stem cell-derived tissues. Detailed analysis of adult TECs is technically challenging due to their rarity, their diminishing numbers with age, and the limited number of markers to distinguish between unique TEC subpopulations. Here, we have devised an improved isolation protocol for adult mouse TECs and combined it with six-color multiparameter flow cytometry. Using these techniques, we have identified four distinct subsets of CD45- EpCAM+ TECs in adult mice: a) UEA1(low) CDR1(low) (UC(low)); b) UEA1(high) CDR1(high)(UC(high)); c) UEA1(low) CDR1(high) MHC(high) (cTEC); and d) UEA1(high)CDR1(low) MHC(int/high) (mTEC). PCR analysis verified that these TEC subsets differentially expressed known TEC genes. TEC subsets were further analyzed using high-throughput quantitative PCR arrays to reveal novel genes that could be important for TEC subset maintenance. Intracellular staining for keratin-5 and keratin-8 can also be added, but our results suggest that keratin expression alone cannot be used to distinguish adult TEC subsets. Our enhanced isolation allows for detailed analysis of rare TEC subpopulations in the adult mouse at the cellular and molecular levels.

16 Reads
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The reproducible isolation and accurate characterization of thymic epithelial cell (TEC) subsets is of critical importance to the ongoing study of thymopoiesis and its functional decline with age. The study of adult TEC, however, is significantly hampered due to the severely low stromal to hematopoietic cell ratio. Non-biased digestion and enrichment protocols are thus essential to ensure optimal cell yield and accurate representation of stromal subsets, as close as possible to their in vivo representation. Current digestion protocols predominantly involve diverse, relatively impure enzymatic variants of crude collagenase and collagenase/dispase (col/disp) preparations, which have variable efficacy and are often suboptimal in their ability to mediate complete digestion of thymus tissue. To address these issues we compared traditional col/disp preparations with the latest panel of Liberase products that contain a blend of highly purified collagenase and neutral protease enzymes. Liberase enzymes revealed a more rapid, complete dissociation of thymus tissue; minimizing loss of viability and increasing recovery of thymic stromal cell (TSC) elements. In particular, the recovery and viability of TEC, notably the rare cortical subsets, were significantly enhanced with Liberase products containing medium to high levels of thermolysin. The improved stromal dissociation led to numerically increased TEC yield and total TEC RNA isolated from pooled digests of adult thymus. Furthermore, the increased recovery of TEC enhanced resolution and quantification of TEC subsets in both adult and aged mice, facilitating flow cytometric analysis on a per thymus basis. We further refined the adult TEC phenotype by correlating surface expression of known TEC markers, with expression of intracellular epithelial lineage markers, Keratin 5 and Keratin 8. The data reveal more extensive expression of K8 than previously recognized and indicates considerable heterogeneity still exists within currently defined adult TEC subsets.
    Journal of immunological methods 08/2012; 385(1-2):23-34. DOI:10.1016/j.jim.2012.07.023 · 1.82 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Recent evidence suggests that head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) harbor a small subpopulation of highly tumorigenic cells, designated cancer stem cells. A limiting factor in cancer stem cell research is the intrinsic difficulty of expanding cells in an undifferentiated state in vitro. Here, we describe the development of the orosphere assay, a method for the study of putative head and neck cancer stem cells. An orosphere is defined as a nonadherent colony of cells sorted from primary HNSCCs or from HNSCC cell lines and cultured in 3-dimensional soft agar or ultralow attachment plates. Aldehyde dehydrogenase activity and CD44 expression were used here as stem cell markers. This assay allowed for the propagation of head and neck cancer cells that retained stemness and self-renewal. The orosphere assay is well suited for studies designed to understand the pathobiology of head and neck cancer stem cells. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Head Neck, 2013
    Head & Neck 07/2013; 35(7). DOI:10.1002/hed.23076 · 2.64 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The role of β-catenin in thymocyte development has been extensively studied, however, the function of β-catenin in thymic epithelial cells (TECs) remains largely unclear. Here, we demonstrate a requirement for β-catenin in keratin 5 (K5)-expressing TECs, which comprise the majority of medullary TECs (mTECs) and a progenitor subset for cortical TECs (cTECs) in the young adult thymus. We found that conditionally ablated β-catenin in K5(+)-TECs and their progeny cells resulted in thymic atrophy. The composition of TECs was also aberrantly affected. Percentages of K5(hi)K8(+)-TECs, K5(+)K8(-)-TECs and UEA1(+)-mTECs were significantly decreased and the percentage of K5(lo)K8(+)-TECs and Ly51(+)-cTECs were increased in β-catenin-deficient thymi compared with that in the control thymi. We also observed that β-catenin-deficient TEC lineage could give rise to K8(+)-cTECs more efficiently than wild-type TECs using lineage-tracing approach. Importantly, the expression levels of several transcription factors (p63, FoxN1 and Aire), which are essential for TEC differentiation, were altered in β-catenin-deficient thymi. Under the aberrant differentiation of TECs, development of all thymocytes in β-catenin-deficient thymi was impaired. Interleukin-7 (IL-7) and chemokines (Ccl19, Ccl25 and Cxcl12) levels were also downregulated in the thymic stromal cells in the mutants. Finally, introducing a BCL2 transgene in lymphoid lineages, which has been shown to rescue IL-7-deficient thymopoiesis, partially rescued the thymic atrophy and thymocyte development defects caused by induced ablation of β-catenin in K5(+)-TECs. Collectively, these findings suggest that β-catenin is required for the differentiation of TECs, thereby contributing to thymocyte development in the postnatal thymus.Immunology and Cell Biology advance online publication, 16 July 2013; doi:10.1038/icb.2013.34.
    Immunology and Cell Biology 07/2013; 91(8). DOI:10.1038/icb.2013.34 · 4.15 Impact Factor
Show more