Increasing the pool of cells at early T-cell developmental stages enhances thymopoiesis and is especially beneficial when T-cell production is compromised by radiation or aging.
Within the immature double-negative (DN; CD4(-)CD8(-)) thymocyte subpopulation, the DN1 subset contains the most primitive cells including the rare early T-cell progenitors (ETPs).
In the present study, a human MCL1 transgene, under the control of its endogenous promoter, resulted in enlargement of an undistorted thymus in C57/BL6 mice.
Enlargement occurred in females but not males, being seen at 1 month of age and maintained during progression into adulthood as the thymus underwent involution.
The small DN1 subset was expanded disproportionally (ETPs increasing from ~0.016 to 0.03% of thymocytes), while more mature thymocytes were increased proportionally (1.5-fold) along with the stroma.
DN1 cells from transgenic females exhibited increased viability with maintained proliferation, and their survival in primary culture was extended.
Exposure of transgenic females to γ-irradiation also revealed an expanded pool of radioresistant DN1 cells exhibiting increased viability.
While the viability of DN1 cells from transgenic males was equivalent to that of their non-transgenic counterparts directly after harvest, it was enhanced in culture-suggesting that the effect of the transgene was suppressed in the in vivo environment of the male.
Viability was increased in ETPs from transgenic females, but unchanged in more mature thymocytes, indicating that primitive cells were affected selectively.
The MCL1 transgene thus increases the viability and pool size of primitive ETP/DN1 cells, promoting thymopoiesis and radioresistance in peripubescent females and into adulthood.