Educational immune tolerance to self-antigens is induced primarily in the thymus where tissue-restricted antigens (TRAs) are presented to T lymphocytes by cells of the thymic stroma - a process known as central tolerance. The expression of these TRAs is controlled in part by a transcription factor encoded by the autoimmune regulatory (Aire) gene. Patients with a mutation of this gene develop a condition known as autoimmune-polyendocrinopathy-candidiasis-ectodermal-dystrophy (APECED), characterized by autoimmune destruction of endocrine organs, fungal infection and dental abnormalities. There is now evidence for TRA expression and for mechanisms of functional tolerance outside the thymus. This has led to a number of studies examining Aire expression and function at these extra-thymic sites. These investigations have been conducted across different animal models using different techniques and have often shown discrepant results. Here we review the studies of extra thymic Aire and discuss the evidence for its expression and function in both human and murine systems.
- ectopic expression