We have examined the role of the AP-1 transcription factor on thymocyte maturation and thymus architecture by overexpressing FosB2 in transgenic mice. FosB2 is a naturally occurring splice variant of the FosB2 gene, encoding a truncated protein which lacks two domains necessary for transcriptional activation. The expression of FosB2 in the thymocytes severely affected their maturation and the structure of the whole thymus: the phenotype developed slowly during the first months of life, resulting in a progressive expansion of the medulla and concomitant reduction of the cortex. CD4+ thymocytes represented the major thymocyte population, whereas the CD4+8+ thymocytes were virtually absent. This phenotype appeared to be an intrinsic property of bone marrow derived cells, as it could be reproduced in bone marrow chimaeric mice. This pathology was very reminiscent to that observed in mice overexpressing c-Fos in thymic epithelium: also in that case the thymus underwent with age a progressive expansion of the epithelium and major changes in the ratio of thymocyte subsets, but the phenotype appeared to be an intrinsic property of the epithelial cells since it could not be reproduced by transgenic bone marrow transplantation. We speculate that both overexpression of FosB2 in thymocytes and overexpression of c-Fos in thymic epithelium results in aberrant signaling between thymocytes and stroma, that ultimately alters the thymic micromilieu, leading to this severe pathology.
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