Identification of embryonic precursor cells that differentiate into thymic epithelial cells expressing autoimmune regulator.
ABSTRACT: Medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) expressing autoimmune regulator (Aire) are critical for preventing the onset of autoimmunity. However, the differentiation program of Aire-expressing mTECs (Aire(+) mTECs) is unclear. Here, we describe novel embryonic precursors of Aire(+) mTECs. We found the candidate precursors of Aire(+) mTECs (pMECs) by monitoring the expression of receptor activator of nuclear factor-?B (RANK), which is required for Aire(+) mTEC differentiation. pMECs unexpectedly expressed cortical TEC molecules in addition to the mTEC markers UEA-1 ligand and RANK and differentiated into mTECs in reaggregation thymic organ culture. Introduction of pMECs in the embryonic thymus permitted long-term maintenance of Aire(+) mTECs and efficiently suppressed the onset of autoimmunity induced by Aire(+) mTEC deficiency. Mechanistically, pMECs differentiated into Aire(+) mTECs by tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated factor 6-dependent RANK signaling. Moreover, nonclassical nuclear factor-?B activation triggered by RANK and lymphotoxin-? receptor signaling promoted pMEC induction from progenitors exhibiting lower RANK expression and higher CD24 expression. Thus, our findings identified two novel stages in the differentiation program of Aire(+) mTECs.
Project description:Aire-expressing medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) play a key role in preventing autoimmunity by expressing tissue-restricted antigens to help purge the emerging T cell receptor repertoire of self-reactive specificities. Here we demonstrate a novel role for a CD4(+)3(-) inducer cell population, previously linked to development of organized secondary lymphoid structures and maintenance of T cell memory in the functional regulation of Aire-mediated promiscuous gene expression in the thymus. CD4(+)3(-) cells are closely associated with mTECs in adult thymus, and in fetal thymus their appearance is temporally linked with the appearance of Aire(+) mTECs. We show that RANKL signals from this cell promote the maturation of RANK-expressing CD80(-)Aire(-) mTEC progenitors into CD80(+)Aire(+) mTECs, and that transplantation of RANK-deficient thymic stroma into immunodeficient hosts induces autoimmunity. Collectively, our data reveal cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to the generation of Aire(+) mTECs and highlight a previously unrecognized role for CD4(+)3(-)RANKL(+) inducer cells in intrathymic self-tolerance.
Project description:The contributions of IFN regulatory factor (IRF) 3/7 and the type I IFNs IFN-?/? to the innate host defense have been extensively investigated; however, their role in thymic development is less clear. In this study, we show that mice lacking the type I IFN receptor IFN-?/? receptor (IFNAR) or the downstream transcription factor STAT1 harbor a significant reduction in self-Ag-presenting, autoimmune regulator (AIRE)(+) medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs). Constitutive IFNAR signaling occurs in the thymic medulla in the absence of infection or inflammation. Receptor activator for NF-?B (RANK) ligand stimulation results in IFN-? upregulation, which in turn inhibits RANK signaling and facilitates AIRE expression in mTECs. Finally, we find that IRF7 is required for thymic IFN-? induction, maintenance of thymic architecture, and mTEC differentiation. We conclude that spatially and temporally coordinated cross talks between the RANK ligand/RANK and IRF7/IFN-?/IFNAR/STAT1 pathways are essential for differentiation of AIRE(+) mTECs.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) are characterized by ectopic expression of self-antigens during the establishment of central tolerance. The autoimmune regulator (Aire), which is specifically expressed in mTECs, is responsible for the expression of a large repertoire of tissue-restricted antigens (TRAs) and plays a role in the development of mTECs. However, Aire-deficient mTECs still express TRAs. Moreover, a subset of mTECs, which are considered to be at a stage of terminal differentiation, exists in the Aire-deficient thymus. The phenotype of a specific cell type in a multicellular organism is governed by the epigenetic regulation system. DNA methylation modification is an important component of this system. Every cell or tissue type displays a DNA methylation profile, consisting of tissue-dependent and differentially methylated regions (T-DMRs), and this profile is involved in cell-type-specific genome usage. The aim of this study was to examine the DNA methylation profile of mTECs by using Aire-deficient mTECs as a model. RESULTS: We identified the T-DMRs of mTECs (mTEC-T-DMRs) via genome-wide DNA methylation analysis of Aire(-/-) mTECs by comparison with the liver, brain, thymus, and embryonic stem cells. The hypomethylated mTEC-T-DMRs in Aire(-/-) mTECs were associated with mTEC-specific genes, including Aire, CD80, and Trp63, as well as other genes involved in the RANK signaling pathway. While these mTEC-T-DMRs were also hypomethylated in Aire(+/+) mTECs, they were hypermethylated in control thymic stromal cells. We compared the pattern of DNA methylation levels at a total of 55 mTEC-T-DMRs and adjacent regions and found that the DNA methylation status was similar for Aire(+/+) and Aire(-/-) mTECs but distinct from that of athymic cells and tissues. CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate a unique DNA methylation profile that is independent of Aire in mTECs. This profile is distinct from other cell types in the thymic microenvironment and is indicated to be involved in the differentiation of the mTEC lineage.
Project description:Thymic epithelial cells in the medulla (mTECs) play a critical role in enforcing central tolerance through expression and presentation of tissue-specific antigens (TSAs) and deletion of autoreactive thymocytes. TSA expression requires autoimmune regulator (Aire), a transcriptional activator present in a subset of mTECs characterized by high CD80 and major histocompatibility complex II expression and a lack of potential for differentiation or proliferation. Here, using an Aire-DTR transgenic line, we show that short-term ablation specifically targets Aire(+) mTECs, which quickly undergo RANK-dependent recovery. Repeated ablation also affects Aire(-) mTECs, and using an inducible Aire-Cre fate-mapping system, we find that this results from the loss of a subset of mTECs that showed prior expression of Aire, maintains intermediate TSA expression, and preferentially migrates toward the center of the medulla. These results clearly identify a distinct stage of mTEC development and underscore the diversity of mTECs that play a key role in maintaining tolerance.
Project description:Polymorphisms impacting thymic function may decrease peripheral tolerance and hasten autoimmune disease. The NF-?B transcription factor subunit, RelB, is essential for the development and differentiation of medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs): RelB-deficient mice have reduced thymic cellularity and markedly fewer mTECs, lacking AIRE. The precise mechanism of this mTEC reduction in the absence of RelB is unclear. To address this, we studied mTECs and dendritic cells (DCs), which critically regulate negative selection, and thymic regulatory T-cells (tTreg) in RelB-/- mice, which have spontaneous multiorgan autoimmune disease. RelB-/- thymi were organized, with medullary structures containing AIRE- mTECs, DCs, and CD4+ thymocytes, but fewer tTreg. Granulocytes infiltrated the RelB-/- thymic cortex, capsule, and medulla, producing inflammatory thymic medullary atrophy, which could be treated by granulocyte depletion or RelB+ DC immunotherapy, with concomitant recovery of mTEC and tTreg numbers. These data indicate that central tolerance defects may be accelerated by autoimmune thymic inflammation where impaired RelB signaling impairs the medullary niche, and may be reversible by therapies enhancing peripheral Treg or suppressing inflammation.
Project description:The roles of autoimmune regulator (Aire) in the expression of the diverse arrays of tissue-restricted antigen (TRA) genes from thymic epithelial cells in the medulla (medullary thymic epithelial cells [mTECs]) and in organization of the thymic microenvironment are enigmatic. We approached this issue by creating a mouse strain in which the coding sequence of green fluorescent protein (GFP) was inserted into the Aire locus in a manner allowing concomitant disruption of functional Aire protein expression. We found that Aire(+) (i.e., GFP(+)) mTECs were the major cell types responsible for the expression of Aire-dependent TRA genes such as insulin 2 and salivary protein 1, whereas Aire-independent TRA genes such as C-reactive protein and glutamate decarboxylase 67 were expressed from both Aire(+) and Aire(-) mTECs. Remarkably, absence of Aire from mTECs caused morphological changes together with altered distribution of mTECs committed to Aire expression. Furthermore, we found that the numbers of mTECs that express involucrin, a marker for terminal epidermal differentiation, were reduced in Aire-deficient mouse thymus, which was associated with nearly an absence of Hassall's corpuscle-like structures in the medulla. Our results suggest that Aire controls the differentiation program of mTECs, thereby organizing the global mTEC integrity that enables TRA expression from terminally differentiated mTECs in the thymic microenvironment.
Project description:The function of medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) is associated with thymocyte adhesion, which is crucial for the negative selection of autoreactive thymocytes in the thymus. This process represents the root of central tolerance of self-components and prevents the onset of autoimmune diseases. Since thymic epithelia correspond to an important target of donor T cells during the onset of chronic graft-vs-host-disease, mTEC-thymocyte adhesion may have implications for alloimmunity. The Aire and Fezf2 genes function as transcriptome controllers in mTECs. The central question of this study is whether there is a mutual relationship between mTEC-thymocyte adhesion and the control of the mTEC transcriptome and whether Aire is involved in this process. Here, we show that in vitro mTEC-thymocyte adhesion causes transcriptome changes in mTECs and upregulates the transcriptional expression of Aire and Fezf2, as well as cell adhesion-related genes such as Cd80 or Tcf7, among others. Crispr-Cas9-mediated Aire gene disruption demonstrated that this gene plays a role in the process of mTEC-thymocyte adhesion. Consistent with the nuclear localization signal (NLS) encoded by Aire exon 3, which was targeted, we demonstrate that Aire KO-/- mTECs impair AIRE protein localization in the nucleus. Consequently, the loss of function of Aire reduced the ability of these cells to adhere to thymocytes. Their transcriptomes differed from their wild-type Aire+/+ counterparts, even during thymocyte adhesion. A set of mRNA isoforms that encode proteins involved in cell adhesion were also modulated during this process. This demonstrates that both thymocyte interactions and Aire influence transcriptome profiling of mTEC cells.
Project description:The thymic medulla provides a specialized microenvironment for the negative selection of T cells, with the presence of autoimmune regulator (Aire)-expressing medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) during the embryonic-neonatal period being both necessary and sufficient to establish long-lasting tolerance. Here we showed that emergence of the first cohorts of Aire(+) mTECs at this key developmental stage, prior to ?? T cell repertoire selection, was jointly directed by Rankl(+) lymphoid tissue inducer cells and invariant V?5(+) dendritic epidermal T cell (DETC) progenitors that are the first thymocytes to express the products of gene rearrangement. In turn, generation of Aire(+) mTECs then fostered Skint-1-dependent, but Aire-independent, DETC progenitor maturation and the emergence of an invariant DETC repertoire. Hence, our data attributed a functional importance to the temporal development of V?5(+) ?? T cells during thymus medulla formation for ?? T cell tolerance induction and demonstrated a Rank-mediated reciprocal link between DETC and Aire(+) mTEC maturation.
Project description:Medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) contribute to self-tolerance through the ectopic expression of peripheral tissue antigens (PTAs) in the thymus. PTA expression in mTECs is largely dependent on the autoimmune regulator (Aire) gene. Here we used a Mus musculus mTEC cell line (3.10 mTEC line, which constitutively express Aire in culture) to knockdown Aire gene by means of siRNA transfection. Aire knockdown was confirmed by means of qRT-PCR and RNA-FISH (for Aire mRNA levels), immunofluorescence and western blot (for AIRE protein levels).The Agilent oligo microarrays were used to determine the large scale transcriptional expression profiles of control or Aire-knockdown 3.10 mTECs.
Project description:The crosstalk between thymocytes and thymic epithelial cells is critical for T cell development and establishment of central tolerance. Although the role of Autoimmune Regulator (Aire) gene in the induction of central tolerance is well known, the precise cellular and molecular mechanisms by which Aire controls the ectopic expression of tissue restricted antigens (TRAs) in medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECS) remain unclear. In this study we performed a functional assay with fresh thymocytes dissociated from a normal mouse thymus co-cultured with a Mus musculus mTEC cell line - named 3.10 mTEC line - , in which we had previously knocked-down Aire gene by means of siRNA transfection. Agilent Mouse Gene Expression microarrays were used to determine the large scale transcriptional expression profiles of control and Aire-knockdown 3.10 mTECs co-cultured with thymocytes.