RANK signals from CD4+3- inducer cells regulate development of Aire-expressing epithelial cells in the thymic medulla

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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.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1267-1272
Number of pages6
JournalThe Journal of Experimental Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2007