Critical role of WNK1 in MYC-dependent early mouse thymocyte development

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WNK1, a kinase that controls kidney salt homeostasis, also regulates adhesion and migration in CD4+ T cells. Wnk1 is highly expressed in thymocytes, and since migration is important for thymocyte maturation, we investigated a role for WNK1 in mouse thymocyte development. We find that WNK1 is required for the transition of double negative (DN) thymocytes through the b-selection checkpoint and subsequent proliferation and differentiation into double positive (DP) thymocytes. Furthermore, we show that WNK1 negatively regulates LFA1-mediated adhesion and positively regulates CXCL12-induced migration in DN thymocytes. Despite this, migration defects of WNK1-deficient thymocytes do not account for the developmental arrest. Instead, we show that in DN thymocytes WNK1 transduces pre-TCR signals via OXSR1 and STK39 kinases and the SLC12A2 ion co-transporter that are required for post-transcriptional upregulation of MYC and subsequent proliferation and differentiation into DP thymocytes. Thus, a pathway regulating ion homeostasis is a critical regulator of thymocyte development.