Expression of CD44 molecules and CD44 ligands during human thymic fetal development: expression of CD44 isoforms is developmentally regulated.
It has recently been recognized that CD44 comprises a large family of alternatively spliced forms. In the thymus, CD44 has been postulated to play an important role in immature T cell migration and maturation. In this paper, we have studied the expression of CD44 molecules and two CD44 ligands, hyaluronan (HA) and fibronectin (FN), during human thymic fetal development. We found that mAbs against all CD44 isoforms (A3D8 or A1G3) reacted with both thymic epithelial (TE) cells and thymocytes beginning at the time of initial colonization of the human thymus by hematopoietic stem cells at 8.2 weeks of fetal gestation. However, mAbs specific for splice variants of CD44 containing membrane-proximal inserts (11.24, 11.10 and 11.9) reacted only with terminally differentiated TE cells in and around Hassall's bodies beginning at 16-19 weeks of fetal gestation. Studies of differentiated versus undifferentiated TE cells in vitro confirmed the selective expression of CD44 variant isoforms on terminally differentiated TE cells. Expression of HA and FN was determined by fluorescence microscopy using either biotinylated-HA binding protein or an anti-FN mAb. We found that whereas FN was present throughout the human fetal thymus beginning at 8.2 weeks, HA was not present until 16 weeks of gestational age. These data demonstrate the differential expression of standard versus variant CD44 isoforms during thymic ontogeny and implicate CD44 interactions with ligands other than HA as important in the earlier stages of human thymus development.
Patel, DD; Hale, LP; Whichard, LP; Radcliff, G; Mackay, CR; Haynes, BF
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