Integrated scRNA-Seq Identifies Human Postnatal Thymus Seeding Progenitors and Regulatory Dynamics of Differentiating Immature Thymocytes


During postnatal life, thymopoiesis depends on the continuous colonization of the thymus by bone-marrow-derived hematopoietic progenitors that migrate through the bloodstream. The current understanding of the nature of thymic immigrants is largely based on data from pre-clinical models. Here, we employed single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) to examine the immature postnatal thymocyte population in humans. Integration of bone marrow and peripheral blood precursor datasets identified two putative thymus seeding progenitors that varied in expression of CD7; CD10; and the homing receptors CCR7, CCR9, and ITGB7. Whereas both precursors supported T cell development, only one contributed to intrathymic dendritic cell (DC) differentiation, predominantly of plasmacytoid dendritic cells. Trajectory inference delineated the transcriptional dynamics underlying early human T lineage development, enabling prediction of transcription factor (TF) modules that drive stage-specific steps of human T cell development. This comprehensive dataset defines the expression signature of immature human thymocytes and provides a resource for the further study of human thymopoiesis.