Transcriptomic analysis supports similar functional roles for the two thymuses of the tammar wallaby.
Wong ESW., Papenfuss AT., Heger A., Hsu AL., Ponting CP., Miller RD., Fenelon JC., Renfree MB., Gibbs RA., Belov K.
BACKGROUND: The thymus plays a critical role in the development and maturation of T-cells. Humans have a single thoracic thymus and presence of a second thymus is considered an anomaly. However, many vertebrates have multiple thymuses. The tammar wallaby has two thymuses: a thoracic thymus (typically found in all mammals) and a dominant cervical thymus. Researchers have known about the presence of the two wallaby thymuses since the 1800s, but no genome-wide research has been carried out into possible functional differences between the two thymic tissues. Here, we used pyrosequencing to compare the transcriptomes of a cervical and thoracic thymus from a single 178 day old tammar wallaby. RESULTS: We show that both the tammar thoracic and the cervical thymuses displayed gene expression profiles consistent with roles in T-cell development. Both thymuses expressed genes that mediate distinct phases of T-cells differentiation, including the initial commitment of blood stem cells to the T-lineage, the generation of T-cell receptor diversity and development of thymic epithelial cells. Crucial immune genes, such as chemokines were also present. Comparable patterns of expression of non-coding RNAs were seen. 67 genes differentially expressed between the two thymuses were detected, and the possible significance of these results are discussed. CONCLUSION: This is the first study comparing the transcriptomes of two thymuses from a single individual. Our finding supports that both thymuses are functionally equivalent and drive T-cell development. These results are an important first step in the understanding of the genetic processes that govern marsupial immunity, and also allow us to begin to trace the evolution of the mammalian immune system.