Identification of embryonic precursor cells that differentiate into thymic epithelial cells expressing autoimmune regulator
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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-κB (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-κB activation triggered by RANK and lymphotoxin-β 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.
- Journal of Experimental Medicine
Journal of Experimental Medicine 213(8), 1441-1458, 2016-07-11
Rockefeller University Press