Age-related thymic involution may be triggered by gene expression changes in lymphohematopoietic and/or nonhematopoietic thymic epithelial cells (TECs). The role of epithelial cell-autonomous gene FoxN1 may be involved in the process, but it is still a puzzle because of the shortage of evidence from gradual loss-of-function and exogenous gain-of-function studies. Using our recently generated loxP-floxed-FoxN1(fx) mouse carrying the ubiquitous CreERT (uCreERT) transgene with a low dose of spontaneous activation, which causes gradual FoxN1 deletion with age, we found that the uCreERT-fx/fx mice showed an accelerated age-related thymic involution owing to progressive loss of FoxN1+ TECs. The thymic aging phenotypes were clearly observable as early as at 3-6 months of age, resembling the naturally aged (18-22-month-old) murine thymus. By intrathymically supplying aged wild-type mice with exogenous FoxN1-cDNA, thymic involution and defective peripheral CD4+ T-cell function could be partially rescued. The results support the notion that decline of a single epithelial cell-autonomous gene FoxN1 levels with age causes primary deterioration in TECs followed by impairment of the total postnatal thymic microenvironment, and potentially triggers agerelated thymic involution in mice.
- Spontaneous FoxN1 gene recombination
- Thymic aging
- Thymic epithelium
- loxP/CreER system