Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Genomics and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Transcriptomic analysis supports similar functional roles for the two thymuses of the tammar wallaby

Emily SW Wong1, Anthony T Papenfuss2, Andreas Heger3, Arthur L Hsu2, Chris P Ponting3, Robert D Miller4, Jane C Fenelon5, Marilyn B Renfree5, Richard A Gibbs6 and Katherine Belov1*

Author affiliations

1 Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

2 Bioinformatics Division, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research, Parkville, Victoria 3050, Australia

3 Medical Research Council Functional Genomics Unit, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

4 Center for Evolutionary and Theoretical Immunology, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA

5 ARC Centre of Excellence in Kangaroo Genomics, Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

6 Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, Human Genome Sequencing Center, Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2011, 12:420  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-420

Published: 19 August 2011

Abstract

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.