Analysis of thymus development 

This project has been completed.

Patients whose thymus is absent or damaged cannot be adequately treated today. An alternative is urgently needed.

Every day the human immune system is confronted umpteen times with a crucial question: Is a newly discovered object, like this cell, part of the body or is it a pathogen which must be destroyed? Wrong or incomplete answers to these questions can have far-reaching consequences for the person concerned, leading for example to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, or cancer. If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system starts to attack your own body cells by mistake.
T-lymphocytes are key to the defence against pathogens, cancer or autoimmune diseases. These powerful defence cells are produced throughout our lifetime in the thymus, an organ which lies in the chest above the heart. These T-cells need a scaffold of tissue cells, notably thymic epithelial cells (TEC). These tissue cells must be replaced regularly since they die off after a few weeks. Tissue stem cells are responsible for this regeneration. However, many questions are still unresolved about the development of these cells and that is what the research team is investigating. 
For example, they are examining the role Polycomb proteins play in this process. It is known that DNA is packed in the heart of cells together with special proteins. This complex is called chromatin. Whether a tissue stem cell can divide and produce new tissue cells depends on the state of the chromatin and this is regulated by, among other things, the Polycomb proteins. They bind to the chromatin and thereby control the development and growth of the cell. The precise details of this process are still not understood.

Fresh insights into the development of tissue cells in the thymus as well as the T-lymphocytes are a prerequisite for the development of new therapies. Patients whose thymus is absent or damaged cannot be adequately treated today because the transplantation of thymus tissue is generally extremely complicated and not particularly efficient. An alternative is urgently needed.

Original title: Polycomb complex-mediated and epigenetic regulation of thymic epithelial cell development: an integrative genomic analysis

Grant: CHF 567’816.-
Duration: 36 months

Project leader
- Prof. Georg Holländer, Universität Basel, Department Biomedizin

On this Subject


Prof. Georg Holländer
Universität Basel
Department Biomedizin
Mattenstrasse 28
4058 Basel
Phone: +41 61 695 30 71
Fax: +41 61 695 30 70

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