This article describes the molecular pathways in progenitor cells involved in spleen formation in the developing embryos.
The molecular determinants of spleen organogenesis and the etiology of isolated congenital asplenia (ICA), a life-threatening human condition, are unknown. We previously reported that Pbx1 deficiency causes organ growth defects including asplenia. Here, we show that mice with splenic mesenchyme-specific Pbx1 inactivation exhibit hyposplenia. Moreover, the loss of Pbx causes downregulation of Nkx2-5 and derepression of p15Ink4b in spleen mesenchymal progenitors, perturbing the cell cycle. Removal of p15Ink4b in Pbx1 spleen-specific mutants partially rescues spleen growth. By whole-exome sequencing of a multiplex kindred with ICA, we identify a heterozygous missense mutation (P236H) in NKX2-5 showing reduced transactivation in vitro. This study establishes that a Pbx/Nkx2-5/p15 regulatory module is essential for spleen development.