Molecular Dissection of Prethymic Progenitor Entry into the T Lymphocyte Developmental Pathway
Notch signaling activates T lineage differentiation from hemopoietic progenitors, but relatively few regulators that initiate this program have been identified, e.g., GATA3 and T cell factor-1 (TCF-1) (gene name Tcf7). To identify additional regulators of T cell specification, a cDNA library from mouse Pro-T cells was screened for genes that are specifically up-regulated in intrathymic T cell precursors as compared with myeloid progenitors. Over 90 genes of interest were identified, and 35 of 44 tested were confirmed to be more highly expressed in T lineage precursors relative to precursors of B and/or myeloid lineage. To a remarkable extent, however, expression of these T lineage-enriched genes, including zinc finger transcription factor, helicase, and signaling adaptor genes, was also shared by stem cells (Lin^−Sca-1^+Kit^+CD27^−) and multipotent progenitors (Lin^−Sca-1^+Kit^+CD27^+), although down-regulated in other lineages. Thus, a major fraction of these early T lineage genes are a regulatory legacy from stem cells. The few genes sharply up-regulated between multipotent progenitors and Pro-T cell stages included those encoding transcription factors Bcl11b, TCF-1 (Tcf7), and HEBalt, Notch target Deltex1, Deltex3L, Fkbp5, Eva1, and Tmem131. Like GATA3 and Deltex1, Bcl11b, Fkbp5, and Eva1 were dependent on Notch/Delta signaling for induction in fetal liver precursors, but only Bcl11b and HEBalt were up-regulated between the first two stages of intrathymic T cell development (double negative 1 and double negative 2) corresponding to T lineage specification. Bcl11b was uniquely T lineage restricted and induced by Notch/Delta signaling specifically upon entry into the T lineage differentiation pathway.