Cell Competition, the Kinetics of Thymopoiesis, and Thymus Cellularity Are Regulated by Double-Negative 2 to 3 Early Thymocytes

Cell Rep. 2020 Jul 21;32(3):107910. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.107910.


Cell competition in the thymus is a homeostatic process that drives turnover. If the process is impaired, thymopoiesis can be autonomously maintained for several weeks, but this causes leukemia. We aimed to understand the effect of cell competition on thymopoiesis, identify the cells involved, and determine how the process is regulated. Using thymus transplantation experiments, we found that cell competition occurs within the double-negative 2 (DN2) and 3 early (DN3e) thymocytes and inhibits thymus autonomy. Furthermore, the expansion of DN2b is regulated by a negative feedback loop that is imposed by double-positive thymocytes and determines the kinetics of thymopoiesis. This feedback loop affects the cell cycle duration of DN2b, in a response controlled by interleukin 7 availability. Altogether, we show that thymocytes do not merely follow a pre-determined path if provided with the correct signals. Instead, thymopoiesis dynamically integrates cell-autonomous and non-cell-autonomous aspects that fine-tune normal thymus function.

Keywords: T cell development; T lymphocyte differentiation; cell competition; interleukin 7; thymopoiesis; thymus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Competition*
  • Cell Count
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Proliferation
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Interleukin-7 / metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Thymocytes / cytology*
  • Thymus Gland / cytology*
  • Thymus Gland / transplantation


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Interleukin-7
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Rag2 protein, mouse