Activation of the zinc-sensing receptor GPR39 promotes T-cell reconstitution after hematopoietic cell transplant in mice

Blood. 2022 Jun 23;139(25):3655-3666. doi: 10.1182/blood.2021013950.


Prolonged lymphopenia represents a major clinical problem after cytoreductive therapies such as chemotherapy and the conditioning required for hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HCT), contributing to the risk of infections and malignant relapse. Restoration of T-cell immunity depends on tissue regeneration in the thymus, the primary site of T-cell development, although the capacity of the thymus to repair itself diminishes over its lifespan. However, although boosting thymic function and T-cell reconstitution is of considerable clinical importance, there are currently no approved therapies for treating lymphopenia. Here we found that zinc (Zn) is critically important for both normal T-cell development and repair after acute damage. Accumulated Zn in thymocytes during development was released into the extracellular milieu after HCT conditioning, where it triggered regeneration by stimulating endothelial cell production of BMP4 via the cell surface receptor GPR39. Dietary supplementation of Zn was sufficient to promote thymic function in a mouse model of allogeneic HCT, including enhancing the number of recent thymic emigrants in circulation although direct targeting of GPR39 with a small molecule agonist enhanced thymic function without the need for prior Zn accumulation in thymocytes. Together, these findings not only define an important pathway underlying tissue regeneration but also offer an innovative preclinical approach to treat lymphopenia in HCT recipients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • Lymphopenia*
  • Mice
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled* / genetics
  • Thymus Gland / metabolism
  • Transplantation, Homologous
  • Zinc / metabolism


  • GPR39 protein, mouse
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Zinc