Author(s): Koble C, Kyewski B
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Abstract Central tolerance is shaped by the array of self-antigens expressed and presented by various types of thymic antigen-presenting cells (APCs). Depending on the overall signal quality and/or quantity delivered in these interactions, self-reactive thymocytes either apoptose or commit to the T regulatory cell lineage. The cellular and molecular complexity underlying these events has only recently been appreciated. We analyzed the ex vivo presentation of ubiquitous or tissue-restricted self-antigens by medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) and thymic dendritic cells (DCs), the two major APC types present in the medulla. We found that the ubiquitously expressed nuclear neo-self-antigen ovalbumin (OVA) was efficiently presented via major histocompatibility complex class II by mTECs and thymic DCs. However, presentation by DCs was highly dependent on antigen expression by TECs, and hemopoietic cells did not substitute for this antigen source. Accordingly, efficient deletion of OVA-specific T cells correlated with OVA expression by TECs. Notably, OVA was only presented by thymic but not peripheral DCs. We further demonstrate that thymic DCs are constitutively provided in situ with cytosolic as well as membrane-bound mTEC-derived proteins. The subset of DCs displaying transferred proteins was enriched in activated DCs, with these cells being most efficient in presenting TEC-derived antigens. These data provide evidence for a unique, constitutive, and unidirectional transfer of self-antigens within the thymic microenvironment, thus broadening the cellular base for tolerance induction toward promiscuously expressed tissue antigens.
This article was published in J Exp Med
and referenced in Journal of Clinical & Cellular Immunology