2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin prompted differentiation to CD4+CD8CD25+ and CD4+CD8+CD25+ Tregs and altered expression of immune-related genes in the thymus of chicken embryos

Min Kyung Cho, Jae Gon Park, Hisato Iwata, Eun Young Kim

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The chicken (Gallus gallus), which has three aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) isoforms (ckAHR1, ckAHR2, and ckAHR1β) and two AHR nuclear translocator (ARNT) isoforms (ckARNT1 and ckARNT2), is highly sensitive to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and can serve as an avian model to gain an understanding of the mechanism underlying dioxin toxicity. To elucidate the mechanism of TCDD-induced immunotoxicity in avian species, we treated chicken embryos in ovo with graded concentrations of TCDD (1.5, 2.5, 3.0, 3.3, 3.5, and 4.0 μM). Initially, we measured mRNA expression levels of ckAHR and ckARNT isoforms and analyzed the T cell populations and transcriptome in the thymuses of TCDD-treated chicken embryos. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis revealed that mRNA expressions of ckAHR1 and ckARNT2 were dominant in the thymus. Severe weight loss and thymus atrophy were observed in the TCDD-treated embryos. Immunophenotyping analyses demonstrated significant increases in CD4+CD8-CD25+ and CD4+CD8+CD25+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) populations following TCDD exposure, suggesting that TCDD suppresses T cell-mediated immune responses in chicken embryos. In addition, thymic transcriptome analyses intimated that alteration of the signaling pathways related to erb-b2 receptor tyrosine kinase 4 (ERBB4) and wnt family member 5A (WNT5A), and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) may be associated with the TCDD-induced thymus atrophy. We also observed significantly altered expression levels of genes including interleukine 13 receptor subunit alpha 2 (IL13RA2), transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGFβ1), collagen type III alpha 1 chain (COL3A1), and collagen type IX alpha 3 chain (COL9A3), implying immunosuppression, fibrosis development, and collagen deposition. Collectively, these findings suggest that TCDD exposure activates the ckAHR1-ckARNT2 signaling pathway and suppresses immune responses through the prompted differentiation to CD4+CD8-CD25+ and CD4+CD8+CD25+ Tregs and altered expressions of immune-related genes in the thymus of chicken embryos.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111947
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021


  • 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)
  • AHR nuclear translocator (ARNT)
  • Aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR)
  • Chicken
  • Immune system
  • Regulatory T cell
  • Thymus


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