Osteoprotegerin-Mediated Homeostasis of Rank+ Thymic Epithelial Cells Does Not Limit Foxp3+ Regulatory T Cell Development

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Abstract

In the thymus, medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTEC) regulate T cell tolerance via negative selection and Foxp3(+) regulatory T cell (Treg) development, and alterations in the mTEC compartment can lead to tolerance breakdown and autoimmunity. Both the receptor activator for NF-κB (RANK)/RANK ligand (RANKL)/osteoprotegerin (OPG) axis and expression of the transcriptional regulator Aire are involved in the regulation of thymus medullary microenvironments. However, their impact on the mechanisms controlling mTEC homeostasis is poorly understood, as are the processes that enable the thymus medulla to support the balanced production of mTEC-dependent Foxp3(+) Treg. In this study, we have investigated the control of mTEC homeostasis and examined how this process impacts the efficacy of Foxp3(+) Treg development. Using newly generated RANK Venus reporter mice, we identify distinct RANK(+) subsets that reside within both the mTEC(hi) and mTEC(lo) compartments and that represent direct targets of OPG-mediated control. Moreover, by mapping OPG expression to a subset of Aire(+) mTEC, our data show how cis- and trans-acting mechanisms are able to control the thymus medulla by operating on multiple mTEC targets. Finally, we show that whereas the increase in mTEC availability in OPG-deficient (Tnfrsf11b(-/-)) mice impacts the intrathymic Foxp3(+) Treg pool by enhancing peripheral Treg recirculation back to the thymus, it does not alter the number of de novo Rag2pGFP(+)Foxp3(+) Treg that are generated. Collectively, our study defines patterns of RANK expression within the thymus medulla, and it shows that mTEC homeostasis is not a rate-limiting step in intrathymic Foxp3(+) Treg production.

Bibliographic note

Copyright © 2015 The Authors.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2675-82
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Immunology
Volume195
Issue number6
Early online date7 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2015