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1.  Developmental and Anatomical Patterns Of IL-2 Gene Expression in Vivo in The Murine Thymus 
Developmental Immunology  1993;3(2):85-102.
Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is a potent growth factor that mature T lymphocytes synthesize and use as a proliferation signal. Much controversy has arisen concerning whether it is used to drive the extensive proliferation of immature pre-T cells in the thymus. Immature thymocytes acquire the competence to express IL-2 at an early stage, but it has remained uncertain whether they are activated to exercise this competence in vivo. Therefore, we have used in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry on serial sections obtained from fetal and adult thymuses of normal C57BL/6 mice and of mice bearing the scid defect to determine where, when, and whether IL-2 is expressed in vivo. Our results show a striking spatial and temporal pattern of IL-2 expression in the normal fetal thymus. We detected a burst of IL-2 mRNA accumulation at day 14.5 of gestation, which rapidly decreased by day 15. At day 15, we observed maximal IL-2 protein production that subsequently decreased by day 16 of gestation. Both in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical staining revealed an unexpectedly strict localization of IL-2 expressing cells to patches around the periphery of the fetal thymus, creating a previously unrecognized compartment of high IL-2 protein content. IL-2 production in the day-15 fetal thymus appeared to be unaffected by the scid mutation, indicating that this response is likely to be T-cell receptor (TcR)-independent. Several features distinguish the IL-2 induction pattern in the adult thymus from that in the fetal thymus. In the normal adult thymus, IL-2-expressing cells are extremely rare (found at a frequency of 10-7), but they are reproducibly detectable as isolated cells in the outer cortex and subcapsular region of the thymus. Unlike the fetal thymic IL-2 producers, the IL-2 producers in the adult thymus are completely eliminated in mice homozygous for the scid mutation. This suggests that the IL-2-expressing cells in the normal adult thymus are of a more mature phenotype than the immature, TcR-negative cells that accumulate in the scid adult thymus. Thus, our work demonstrates that two developmentally distinct types of cell interactions induce IL-2 expression in vivo: one, a broadly localized interaction in day 14‑15 fetal thymus that is unaffected by the scid mutation; the other, a rare event that occurs asynchronously from late fetal through adult life, but which is completely eliminated by the scid defect. These results imply that significant differences exist between the physiological processing of thymocytes in the fetal and postnatal thymic microenvironments.
PMCID: PMC2275923  PMID: 8298302
Interleukin-2 (IL-2); interleukin-2 receptor (IL-2R); thymus; in situ hybridization; immunohistochemistry; severe combined immunodeficiency (scid); T-cell receptor (TcR)
2.  The role of X-chromosome inactivation in female predisposition to autoimmunity 
Arthritis Research  2000;2(5):399-406.
We propose that the phenomenon of X-chromosome inactivation in females may constitute a risk factor for loss of T-cell tolerance; specifically that skewed X-chromosome inactivation in the thymus may lead to inadequate thymic deletion. Using a DNA methylation assay, we have examined the X-chromosome inactivation patterns in peripheral blood from normal females (n = 30), female patients with a variety of autoimmune diseases (n = 167). No differences between patients and controls were observed. However, locally skewed X-chromsome inactivation may exist in the thymus, and therefore the underlying hypothesis remains to be disproved.
A reduction in the sex ratio (male : female) is characteristic of most autoimmune disorders. The increased prevalence in females ranges from a modest 2:1 for multiple sclerosis [1], to approximately 10:1 for systemic lupus erythematosus [2]. This tendency toward autoimmunity in females is often ascribed to hormonal differences, because in a number of experimental disease models estrogens exacerbated disease, and androgens can inhibit disease activity [3,4]. However, human studies have failed to demonstrate a clear-cut influence of hormonal environment on disease susceptibility to lupus or other autoimmune disorders. In addition, many childhood forms of autoimmunity, such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, exhibit female predominance [5]. Interestingly, juvenile (type 1) diabetes is an exception to this general trend, with a sex ratio close to 1 in most studies [6]. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider alternative explanations for the increased prevalence of autoimmune diseases in human females.
A unifying feature of autoimmune disorders appears to be the loss of immunologic tolerance to self-antigens, and in many of these diseases there is evidence that T-cell tolerance has been broken. The most profound form of T-cell tolerance involves deletion of potentially self-reactive T cells during thymic selection. Thus, lack of exposure to a self-antigen in the thymus may lead to the presence of autoreactive T cells and may increase the risk of autoimmunity. An elegant example of this has recently been reported [7].
The existence of X-chromosome inactivation in females offers a potential mechanism whereby X-linked self-antigens may escape presentation in the thymus or in other peripheral sites that are involved in tolerance induction. Early in female development, one of the two X chromosomes in each cell undergoes an ordered process of inactivation, with subsequent silencing of most genes on the inactive X chromosome [8]. This phenomenon occurs at a very early embryonic stage [9], and thus all females are mosaic and may occasionally exhibit extreme skewing towards one or the other parental X chromosome. In theory, this may result in a situation in which polymorphic self-antigens on one X chromosome may fail to be expressed at sufficiently high levels in a tolerizing compartment, such as the thymus, and yet may be expressed at a considerable frequency in the peripheral soma. Thus, females may be predisposed to a situation in which they can occasionally express X-linked autoantigens in the periphery to which they have been inefficiently tolerized. Stewart [10] has recently speculated that such a mechanism may play a role in the predisposition to systemic lupus.
This hypothesis predicts that females with autoimmunity may be particularly prone to this mechanism of `inadequate tolerization' by virtue of extremely skewed X-chromosome inactivation. We therefore performed a comprehensive analysis of X-chromosome inactivation patterns in populations of females with multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus, and in female control individuals. The results do not provide support for a major role for skewed X-chromosome inactivation in female predisposition to autoimmunity; however, neither is the underlying hypothesis disproved by the present data.
Materials and method:
DNA was obtained from female patients from the following sources: 45 persons with juvenile diabetes seen at the Virginia Mason Research Center in Seattle, Washington; 58 multiple sclerosis patients seen at the New York Hospital Multiple Sclerosis Center; 46 patients with systemic lupus erythematosus seen at the Hospital for Special Surgery (New York); 18 patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis seen at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cleveland. In addition, 30 healthy age-matched females were studied as normal controls.
Employing a modification of previously described methods [11], we utilized a fluorescent Hpa II/PCR assay of the androgen receptor (AR) locus to assess X-chromosome inactivation patterns. The AR gene contains a polymorphic CAG repeat, which is flanked by Hpa II sites. These Hpa II sites are methylated on the inactive X chromosome, and are unmethylated on the active X chromosome. By performing PCR amplification across this region after cutting with the methylation-sensitive enzyme Hpa II, the relative amounts of the methylated AR alleles can be quantitatively determined with a high degree of accuracy; variance on repeated assays is approximately 4% [12].
Skewing of X-chromosome inactivation is expressed as percentage deviation from equal (50:50) inactivation of the upper and lower AR alleles. Therefore, the maximal possible deviation is 50%, in which case all of the X chromosomes bearing one of the AR alleles are inactivated.
We examined X-chromosome inactivation patterns in several different populations. The results are summarized in Fig. 1. A wide range of X-inactivation skewing was observed in all five groups. Approximately 5% (nine out of 197) of individuals exhibited extreme skewing (greater than 40% deviation from a 50:50 distribution). However, there was no difference between the groups, either in the overall mean skewing, or in the fraction of individuals with extreme skewing (>40%).
Although the present study was not initiated in order to examine allelic variation in the AR gene per se, the data provide an opportunity to address this question. Excessively long CAG repeats in the AR are a rare cause of spinal-bulbar muscular atrophy [13], and AR repeat length appears to have an influence on the biology of certain tumors [14,15]. In this context, it has been shown that transcription of AR correlates inversely with repeat length [16]. We therefore compared AR repeat length in control individuals and patients with autoimmunity. No differences were observed for mean repeat length, or for maximum and minimum repeat length, among the five groups.
The reason for the female predominance in most autoimmune diseases remains obscure. The present study was initiated in order to address the hypothesis that a nonhormonal mechanism related to X inactivation might be involved. The hypothesis rests on the idea that skewing of X inactivation might lead to a deficiency of tolerance induction in the thymus, particularly with respect to polymorphic X-linked autoantigens. The hypothesis predicts that skewed X inactivation would be more prevalent in females with autoimmune diseases than in female control individuals. This was not observed.
Nevertheless, these negative data do not rule out a role for X inactivation in female predisposition to loss of tolerance. A general model for how this mechanism might operate is shown in Fig. 2. Thymocytes undergo selection in the thymic parenchyma and, in the case of negative selection, the selecting elements appear to be derived from the bone marrow and consist mainly of thymic dendritic cells. If the thymic dendritic cell population exhibits random X inactivation, it is highly likely that differentiating thymocytes will contact dendritic cells that express self-antigens on both X chromosomes. This situation is outlined schematically on the left side of Fig. 2. However, if there is extremely skewed X inactivation in the thymic dendritic cell population, a particular thymocyte might not come into contact with dendritic cells that express one of the two X chormosomes. This would lead to a situation where T cells may undergo thymic maturation without having been negatively selected for antigens that are expressed on the predominantly inactive X chromosome. This situation is shown on the right side of Fig. 2.
In order for this mechanism to be physiologically relevant, some assumptions must be made. First, defective tolerance from skewed X inactivation should only be directed at X-linked antigens that are polymorphic, and for which the individual is heterozygous. Thus, this mechanism would not be expected to lead to lack of tolerance commonly, unless there are at least several highly polymorphic X-linked autoantigens in the population that are involved in thymic deletion events. Second, if this actually leads to autoimmunity, it also predicts that the initial break in tolerance that leads to disease should involve an X-linked autoantigen that is expressed in a peripheral nontolerizing site or circumstance.
A recent report [7] has elegantly demonstrated the importance of thymic deletion events in predisposition to autoimmune disease. The proteolipid protein (PLP) autoantigen is expressed in alternatively spliced forms, which exhibit tissue specific expression. A nonspliced variant is expressed in peripheral neural tissue. However, in the thymus a splice variant results in the lack of thymic expression of an immunodominant peptide. This results in loss of tolerace of T cells to this peptide, presumably on the basis of lack of thymic deletion of thymocytes that are reactive with this antigen. Interestingly, PLP is encoded on the X chromsome. However, there is no evidence that genetic polymorphisms control the level splicing of PLP within the thymus. Nevertheless, these data illustrate the potential importance of deficiencies in thymic deletion for autoimmune T-cell reactivity.
The present results suggest that if skewed X inactivation is relevant to thymic tolerance induction, then the effect does not depend on global skewing of X-chromosome inactivation, at least in the hematopoietic compartment. In this study we examined X-inactivation patterns in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and the results should reflect the state of X inactivation in all mesenchymal tissues, including dendritic cells. X inactivation occurs at a very early time point in development, and thus the results in one tissue should reflect the general situation in the rest of the body. However, there may be exceptions to this. We have occasionally observed differences in X-inactivation patterns between buccal mucosa (an ectodermally derived tissue) and peripheral blood in the same individiual (unpublished observations). This could be a chance event, or it may result from selection for certain X-linked alleles during embryonic development, as has been described in carriers of X-linked immunodeficiencies [17].
Another consideration is that certain tissue microenvironments may be derived from very small numbers of founder cells, and thus may exhibit skewed utilization of one or the other X chromosome, even if the tissue as a whole is not skewed. This situation could vary over time. Thus, there may be time points at which certain thymic microenvironments are populated by dendritic cells that, for stochastic reasons, all utilize the same X chromosome. This would create a `window of opportunity' in which a given thymocyte, in a given selecting location, could escape negative selection by antigens on the inactive X chromosome. The likelihood of this happening would obviously depend on the number of dendritic cells that are usually contacted by a thymocyte during thymic selection. There is limited information on this point, although Stewart [10] has theorized that this number may be as low as 15. If this is the case, then escape from thymic deletion may still occur in females who are heterozygous for a relevant X-linked antigen, even if the hematopoietic cells in general do not exhibit extreme skewing.
In conclusion, we suggest that X-chromosome inactivation needs to be considered as a potential factor in the predominance of females in most autoimmune diseases. Our inability to show an increase in X-chromosome skewing in females with autoimmunity does not eliminate this as an etiologic contributor to loss of immunologic tolerance. Future experiments must be directed at a detailed analysis of tissue patterns of X inactivation, as well as at a search for potential X-linked autoantigens.
PMCID: PMC17816  PMID: 11056674
autoimmunity; gender; immune tolerance; X chromosome
3.  Early molecular events induced by T cell receptor (TCR) signaling in immature CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes: increased synthesis of TCR-alpha protein is an early response to TCR signaling that compensates for TCR-alpha instability, improves TCR assembly, and parallels other indicators of positive selection 
Differentiation of immature CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes into mature CD4+ or CD8+ T cells occurs within the thymus and is dependent upon expression of antigen receptor complexes (T cell receptor [TCR]) containing clonotypic alpha/beta proteins. We have recently found that CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes express low levels of surface TCR because of limitations placed on TCR assembly by the instability of nascent TCR-alpha proteins within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) of immature thymocytes. Because TCR-alpha/beta expression increases during development, a molecular mechanism must exist for increasing the number of assembled TCR complexes present in immature CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes that have been signaled to differentiate into mature T cells, although no such mechanism has yet been described. In the current report we have examined the molecular consequences of intracellular signals generated by engagement of surface TCR complexes on immature CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes. Isolated TCR engagement generated signals that increased TCR-alpha RNA levels and increased synthesis of TCR-alpha proteins, which, in turn, significantly increased assembly of complete TCR- alpha/beta complexes in CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes. Increased TCR-alpha protein levels in TCR-signaled CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes was the result of increased synthesis and not increased stability of TCR-alpha proteins, indicating that TCR engagement compensates for, but does not correct, the inherent instability of TCR-alpha proteins in the ER of immature thymocytes. Consistent with the delivery by TCR engagement of a positive selection signal, TCR engagement also increased CD5 expression, decreased RAG-1 expression, and decreased CD4/CD8 coreceptor expression in immature CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes. These data identify amplified TCR-alpha expression as an initial response of immature CD4+ CD8+ thymocytes to TCR-mediated positive selection signals and provide a molecular basis for increased surface TCR density on developing thymocytes undergoing selection events within the thymus.
PMCID: PMC2191831  PMID: 7528767
4.  Commitment to the Regulatory T Cell Lineage Requires CARMA1 in the Thymus but Not in the Periphery 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(3):e1000051.
Regulatory T (Treg) cells expressing forkhead box P3 (Foxp3) arise during thymic selection among thymocytes with modestly self-reactive T cell receptors. In vitro studies suggest Foxp3 can also be induced among peripheral CD4+ T cells in a cytokine dependent manner. Treg cells of thymic or peripheral origin may serve different functions in vivo, but both populations are phenotypically indistinguishable in wild-type mice. Here we show that mice with a Carma1 point mutation lack thymic CD4+Foxp3+ Treg cells and demonstrate a cell-intrinsic requirement for CARMA1 in thymic Foxp3 induction. However, peripheral Carma1-deficient Treg cells could be generated and expanded in vitro in response to the cytokines transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) and interleukin-2 (IL-2). In vivo, a small peripheral Treg pool existed that was enriched at mucosal sites and could expand systemically after infection with mouse cytomegalovirus (MCMV). Our data provide genetic evidence for two distinct mechanisms controlling regulatory T cell lineage commitment. Furthermore, we show that peripheral Treg cells are a dynamic population that may expand to limit immunopathology or promote chronic infection.
Author Summary
In mammals, CD4+ T cells are essential for controlling infections, but have the potential to attack host tissues as well, resulting in autoimmune disease. A subset of CD4+ T cells, regulatory T cells (Treg)—identified by the expression of the forkhead transcription factor Foxp3—serve to prevent immunopathology by dampening immune responses. These cells are unique among CD4+ T cell subsets, as only the Treg lineage can develop in both the thymus and periphery. Using a genetic approach, we identified a mutation in the gene Carma1, a key component of T and B cell signaling, which in mice distinguishes Treg cells derived from the periphery from thymic-derived regulatory T cells. The mutation caused an absence of thymic Treg cells. However, a small population of Treg cells was observed in the spleen, lymph nodes, and colon of Carma1-mutant mice that expanded after viral infection, suggesting that peripheral development of Treg cells could still occur. Indeed, Carma1-mutant CD4+ T cells could be converted into the Treg lineage in vitro. Our results demonstrate an organ-specific requirement for the CARMA1 signaling pathway that developing thymocytes need in order to become Treg cells, but that naïve CD4+ T cells can bypass in the periphery. This dichotomy suggests that Treg cells of thymic or peripheral origin may have different specificities or functions in vivo.
The organ-specific requirement for CARMA1-dependent signaling in the thymus suggests that regulatory T cells of thymic or peripheral origin may have different roles in vivo.
PMCID: PMC2650725  PMID: 19260764
5.  Delayed functional maturation of natural regulatory T cells in the medulla of postnatal thymus: role of TSLP 
BMC Immunology  2006;7:6.
Generation of functional CD4+CD8-CD25+ regulatory T cells (Treg) in the murine thymus depends on FoxP3. Removal of the thymus from neonatal mice has been shown to result in a multiple organ autoimmune disease phenotype that can be prevented by introducing the FoxP3+ Treg population to the animal. It has therefore, been proposed that functional FoxP3+ Treg cells are not made in the neonatal thymus; however, it remains unclear when and where functional FoxP3+CD4+CD8-CD25+ thymocytes are generated in postnatal thymus.
We report that neither FoxP3 mRNA nor protein is expressed in CD4+CD8-CD25+, or CD4+CD8-CD25- thymocytes until 3–4 days post birth, despite the presence of mature CD4+CD8-CD25+/- thymocytes in the thymus by 1–2 days after birth. FoxP3-CD4+CD8-CD25+ thymocytes from day 2 newborn mice show no Treg activity. Interestingly, we are able to detect low numbers of FoxP3+ thymocytes dispersed throughout the medullary region of the thymus as early as 3–4 days post birth. Expression of FoxP3 is induced in embryonic day 17 fetal thymus organ culture (FTOC) after 4–6 days of in vitro culture. Treatment of FTOCs with thymic stromal derived lymphopoietin (TSLP) enhanced expression of FoxP3, and blocking the TSLP receptor reduces FoxP3 expression in FTOC. Furthermore, TSLP stimulates FoxP3 expression in purified CD4+CD8- thymocytes, but not in CD4+CD8+, CD4-CD8+ and CD4-CD8- thymocytes.
Expression of FoxP3 or Treg maturation is ontogenically distinct and kinetically delayed from the generation of CD4+CD8-CD25+ or CD4+CD8-CD25- thymocytes in the postnatal thymus. TSLP produced from medullary thymic epithelia cells (mTEC) contributes to the expression of FoxP3 and the maturation of natural regulatory T cells. Overall, these results suggest that the development of Treg cells requires paracrine signaling during late stages of thymocyte maturation that is distinct from signaling during positive or negative selection.
PMCID: PMC1450317  PMID: 16579866
6.  Stepwise Development of MAIT Cells in Mouse and Human 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(3):e1000054.
Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells display two evolutionarily conserved features: an invariant T cell receptor (TCR)α (iTCRα) chain and restriction by the nonpolymorphic class Ib major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecule, MHC-related molecule 1 (MR1). MR1 expression on thymus epithelial cells is not necessary for MAIT cell development but their accumulation in the gut requires MR1 expressing B cells and commensal flora. MAIT cell development is poorly known, as these cells have not been found in the thymus so far. Herein, complementary human and mouse experiments using an anti-humanVα7.2 antibody and MAIT cell-specific iTCRα and TCRβ transgenic mice in different genetic backgrounds show that MAIT cell development is a stepwise process, with an intra-thymic selection followed by peripheral expansion. Mouse MAIT cells are selected in an MR1-dependent manner both in fetal thymic organ culture and in double iTCRα and TCRβ transgenic RAG knockout mice. In the latter mice, MAIT cells do not expand in the periphery unless B cells are added back by adoptive transfer, showing that B cells are not required for the initial thymic selection step but for the peripheral accumulation. In humans, contrary to natural killer T (NKT) cells, MAIT cells display a naïve phenotype in the thymus as well as in cord blood where they are in low numbers. After birth, MAIT cells acquire a memory phenotype and expand dramatically, up to 1%–4% of blood T cells. Finally, in contrast with NKT cells, human MAIT cell development is independent of the molecular adaptor SAP. Interestingly, mouse MAIT cells display a naïve phenotype and do not express the ZBTB16 transcription factor, which, in contrast, is expressed by NKT cells and the memory human MAIT cells found in the periphery after birth. In conclusion, MAIT cells are selected by MR1 in the thymus on a non-B non-T hematopoietic cell, and acquire a memory phenotype and expand in the periphery in a process dependent both upon B cells and the bacterial flora. Thus, their development follows a unique pattern at the crossroad of NKT and γδ T cells.
Author Summary
White blood cells, or lymphocytes, play an important role in defending the body from infection and disease. T lymphocytes come in many varieties with diverse functions. Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells constitute a subset of unconventional T lymphocytes, characterized by their invariant T cell receptor (TCR)α chain and their requirement for the nonpolymorphic class Ib (MHC) molecule, MR1. MAIT cells are extremely abundant in human blood and mucosae. Contrary to mainstream T cells, their development requires B cells and commensal microbial flora. To shed light on the little-understood MAIT cells, we used new tools, including an antibody that we recently developed to detect human MAIT cells, and we were able to show that MAIT cell development is a stepwise process, with an intra-thymic selection followed by peripheral expansion. We show that thymic selection is MR1 dependent but requires neither B cells nor the commensal flora, which are both necessary for the expansion in the periphery. In contrast with the other evolutionarily conserved invariant subset, the natural killer T (NKT) cells, we found that MAIT cells exit the thymus as “naïve” cells before becoming antigen-experienced memory cells and expanding in number to represent a significant 1%–4% of peripheral T cells in human blood. In mice, we found that MAIT cells remain naïve and do not expand substantially. We conclude that MAIT cell development follows a unique scheme, where, unlike NKT cells, MAIT cell selection and expansion are uncoupled events that are mediated by distinct cell types in different compartments.
Mucosal-associated invariant T cells, the most abundant invariant T cell subset in humans, arise via a distinct developmental pathway that represents a hybrid of that seen for NKT and γδ T cells, two other unconventional T cell subsets.
PMCID: PMC2653554  PMID: 19278296
7.  NKT Cell-TCR Expression Activates Conventional T Cells in Vivo, but Is Largely Dispensable for Mature NKT Cell Biology 
PLoS Biology  2013;11(6):e1001589.
Natural killer T (NKT) cell development depends on recognition of self-glycolipids via their semi-invariant Vα14i-TCR. However, to what extent TCR-mediated signals determine identity and function of mature NKT cells remains incompletely understood. To address this issue, we developed a mouse strain allowing conditional Vα14i-TCR expression from within the endogenous Tcrα locus. We demonstrate that naïve T cells are activated upon replacement of their endogenous TCR repertoire with Vα14i-restricted TCRs, but they do not differentiate into NKT cells. On the other hand, induced TCR ablation on mature NKT cells did not affect their lineage identity, homeostasis, or innate rapid cytokine secretion abilities. We therefore propose that peripheral NKT cells become unresponsive to and thus are independent of their autoreactive TCR.
Author Summary
Immune system natural killer T (NKT) cells help to protect against certain strains of bacteria and viruses, and suppress the development of autoimmune diseases and cancer. However, NKT cells are also central mediators of allergic responses. The recognition of one's own glycolipid antigens (self-glycolipids) in the thymus via the unique Vα14i T cell receptor, Vα14i-TCR, triggers the NKT cell developmental program, which differs considerably from that of conventional T cells. We generated a mouse model to investigate whether the Vα14i-TCR on mature NKT cells constantly recognizes self-glycolipids and to assess whether this TCR is required for survival and continued NKT cell identity. Switching the peptide-recognizing TCR of a mature conventional T cell to a glycolipid-recognizing Vα14i-TCR led to activation of the T cells, indicating that this TCR is also autoreactive on peripheral T cells or can signal autonomously. But TCR ablation did not affect the half-life, characteristic gene expression or innate functions of mature NKT cells. Therefore, the inherently autoreactive Vα14i-TCR is dispensable for the functions of mature peripheral NKT cells after instructing thymic NKT cell development. Thus the Vα14i-TCR serves a similar function to pattern-recognition receptors, in mediating immune recognition of foreign invasion or diseased cells.
PMCID: PMC3708704  PMID: 23853545
8.  Foxp3 Expression is Required for the Induction of Therapeutic Tissue Tolerance1 
CD4+Foxp3+ Treg are essential for immune homeostasis and maintenance of self-tolerance. They are produced in the thymus and also generated de novo in the periphery in a TGFβ dependent manner. Foxp3+ Treg are also required to achieve tolerance to transplanted tissues when induced by co receptor or co stimulation blockade. Using TCR transgenic mice to avoid issues of autoimmune pathology, we show that Foxp3 expression is both necessary and sufficient for tissue tolerance by coreceptor blockade. Moreover, the known need in tolerance induction for TGFβ signalling to T cells can wholly be explained by its role in induction of Foxp3, as such signalling proved dispensable for the suppressive process. We analysed the relative contribution of TGFβ and Foxp3 to the transcriptome of TGFβ-induced Treg and showed that TGFβ elicited a large set of down-regulated signature genes. The number of genes uniquely modulated due to the influence of Foxp3 alone was surprisingly limited. Thus, despite the large genetic influence of TGFβ exposure on iTreg, the crucial Foxp3-influenced signature independent of TGFβ is small. Retroviral mediated conditional nuclear expression of Foxp3 proved sufficient to confer transplant-suppressive potency on CD4+ T cells, and was lost once nuclear Foxp3 expression was extinguished. These data support a dual role for TGFβ and Foxp3 in induced tolerance, where TGFβ stimulates Foxp3 expression, whose sustained expression is then associated with acquisition of tolerance.
PMCID: PMC3467196  PMID: 22988034
9.  Genes involved in TGFβ1-driven epithelial-mesenchymal transition of renal epithelial cells are topologically related in the human interactome map 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:383.
Understanding how mesenchymal cells arise from epithelial cells could have a strong impact in unveiling mechanisms of epithelial cell plasticity underlying kidney regeneration and repair.
In primary human tubular epithelial cells (HUTEC) under different TGFβ1 concentrations we had observed epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) but not epithelial-myofibroblast transdifferentiation. We hypothesized that the process triggered by TGFβ1 could be a dedifferentiation event. The purpose of this study is to comprehensively delineate genetic programs associated with TGFβ1-driven EMT in our in vitro model using gene expression profile on large-scale oligonucleotide microarrays.
In HUTEC under TGFβ1 stimulus, 977 genes were found differentially expressed. Thirty genes were identified whose expression depended directly on TGFβ1 concentration. By mapping the differentially expressed genes in the Human Interactome Map using Cytoscape software, we identified a single scale-free network consisting of 2630 interacting proteins and containing 449 differentially expressed proteins. We identified 27 hub proteins in the interactome with more than 29 edges incident on them and encoded by differentially expressed genes. The Gene Ontology analysis showed an excess of up-regulated proteins involved in biological processes, such as "morphogenesis", "cell fate determination" and "regulation of development", and the most up-regulated genes belonged to these categories. In addition, 267 genes were mapped to the KEGG pathways and 14 pathways with more than nine differentially expressed genes were identified. In our model, Smad signaling was not the TGFβ1 action effector; instead, the engagement of RAS/MAPK signaling pathway seems mainly to regulate genes involved in the cell cycle and proliferation/apoptosis.
Our present findings support the hypothesis that context-dependent EMT generated in our model by TGFβ1 might be the outcome of a dedifferentiation. In fact: 1) the principal biological categories involved in the process concern morphogenesis and development; 2) the most up-regulated genes belong to these categories; and, finally, 3) some intracellular pathways are involved, whose engagement during kidney development and nephrogenesis is well known. These long-term effects of TGFβ1 in HUTEC involve genes that are highly interconnected, thereby generating a scale-free network that we named the "TGFβ1 interactome", whose hubs represent proteins that may have a crucial role for HUTEC in response to TGFβ1.
PMCID: PMC2174485  PMID: 17953753
10.  The Dynamics of T-Cell Receptor Repertoire Diversity Following Thymus Transplantation for DiGeorge Anomaly 
PLoS Computational Biology  2009;5(6):e1000396.
T cell populations are regulated both by signals specific to the T-cell receptor (TCR) and by signals and resources, such as cytokines and space, that act independently of TCR specificity. Although it has been demonstrated that disruption of either of these pathways has a profound effect on T-cell development, we do not yet have an understanding of the dynamical interactions of these pathways in their joint shaping of the T cell repertoire. Complete DiGeorge Anomaly is a developmental abnormality that results in the failure of the thymus to develop, absence of T cells, and profound immune deficiency. After receiving thymic tissue grafts, patients suffering from DiGeorge anomaly develop T cells derived from their own precursors but matured in the donor tissue. We followed three DiGeorge patients after thymus transplantation to utilize the remarkable opportunity these subjects provide to elucidate human T-cell developmental regulation. Our goal is the determination of the respective roles of TCR-specific vs. TCR-nonspecific regulatory signals in the growth of these emerging T-cell populations. During the course of the study, we measured peripheral blood T-cell concentrations, TCRβ V gene-segment usage and CDR3-length spectratypes over two years or more for each of the subjects. We find, through statistical analysis based on a novel stochastic population-dynamic T-cell model, that the carrying capacity corresponding to TCR-specific resources is approximately 1000-fold larger than that of TCR-nonspecific resources, implying that the size of the peripheral T-cell pool at steady state is determined almost entirely by TCR-nonspecific mechanisms. Nevertheless, the diversity of the TCR repertoire depends crucially on TCR-specific regulation. The estimated strength of this TCR-specific regulation is sufficient to ensure rapid establishment of TCR repertoire diversity in the early phase of T cell population growth, and to maintain TCR repertoire diversity in the face of substantial clonal expansion-induced perturbation from the steady state.
Author Summary
Protective adaptive immunity depends crucially on the enormous diversity of the T-cell receptor repertoire, the antigen receptors expressed collectively on T-cell populations. T cells develop from T-cell precursors that originate in the bone marrow and migrate to the thymus, where their T cell receptors are constructed stochastically, and tested for autoreactivity against a host of self antigens. Complete DiGeorge anomaly is a rare congenital disease in which the thymus fails to develop, blocking all T cell development and causing profound immunodeficiency. Thymus transplantation, performed in the first two post-natal years, allows the patient's own T cell precursors to develop in the engrafted thymus tissue into normal, functioning T cells. In addition to saving patients' lives, this procedure provides an extraordinary opportunity to study the de novo development of human T cell populations. We have developed a mathematical model to aid in the statistical analysis of the precious data from these patients. In addition to helping elucidate the means by which the size and diversity of T cell populations are jointly regulated, the insights gained from this study hold promise for the development of therapies to promote immune recovery after transplantation.
PMCID: PMC2690399  PMID: 19521511
11.  Selective Depletion of Eosinophils or Neutrophils in Mice Impacts the Efficiency of Apoptotic Cell Clearance in the Thymus 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11439.
Developing thymocytes undergo a rigorous selection process to ensure that the mature T cell population expresses a T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire that can functionally interact with major histocompatibility complexes (MHC). Over 90% of thymocytes fail this selection process and die. A small number of macrophages within the thymus are responsible for clearing the large number of dying thymocytes that must be continuously cleared. We studied the capacity of thymic macrophages to clear apoptotic cells under acute circumstances. This was done by synchronously inducing cell death in the thymus and then monitoring the clearance of apoptotic thymocytes. Interestingly, acute cell death was shown to recruit large numbers of CD11b+ cells into the thymus. In the absence of a minor CSF-1 dependent population of macrophages, the recruitment of these CD11b+ cells into the thymus was greatly reduced and the clearance of apoptotic cells was disrupted. To assess a possible role for the CD11b+ cells in the clearance of apoptotic cells, we analyzed mice deficient for eosinophils and mice with defective trafficking of neutrophils. Failure to attract either eosinophils or neutrophils to the thymus resulted in the impaired clearance of apoptotic cells. These results suggested that there is crosstalk between cells of the innate immune system that is necessary for maximizing the efficiency of apoptotic cell removal.
PMCID: PMC2897847  PMID: 20625428
12.  Programming of neuroendocrine self in the thymus and its defect in the development of neuroendocrine autoimmunity 
For centuries after its first description by Galen, the thymus was considered as only a vestigial endocrine organ until the discovery in 1961 by Jacques FAP Miller of its essential role in the development of T (thymo-dependent) lymphocytes. A unique thymus first appeared in cartilaginous fishes some 500 million years ago, at the same time or shortly after the emergence of the adaptive (acquired) immune system. The thymus may be compared to a small brain or a computer highly specialized in the orchestration of central immunological self-tolerance. This was a necessity for the survival of species, given the potent evolutionary pressure imposed by the high risk of autotoxicity inherent in the stochastic generation of the diversity of immune cell receptors that characterize the adaptive immune response. A new paradigm of “neuroendocrine self-peptides” has been proposed, together with the definition of “neuroendocrine self.” Neuroendocrine self-peptides are secreted by thymic epithelial cells (TECs) not according to the classic model of neuroendocrine signaling, but are processed for presentation by, or in association with, the thymic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins. The autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene/protein controls the transcription of neuroendocrine genes in TECs. The presentation of self-peptides in the thymus is responsible for the clonal deletion of self-reactive T cells, which emerge during the random recombination of gene segments that encode variable parts of the T cell receptor for the antigen (TCR). At the same time, self-antigen presentation in the thymus generates regulatory T (Treg) cells that can inhibit, in the periphery, those self-reactive T cells that escaped negative selection in the thymus. Several arguments indicate that the origin of autoimmunity directed against neuroendocrine glands results primarily from a defect in the intrathymic programming of self-tolerance to neuroendocrine functions. This defect may be genetic or acquired, for example during an enteroviral infection. This novel knowledge of normal and pathologic functions of the thymus constitutes a solid basis for the development of a novel type of tolerogenic/negative self-vaccination against type 1 diabetes (T1D).
PMCID: PMC3797387  PMID: 24137108
thymus; self-tolerance; autoimmunity; type 1 diabetes; neuroendocrine self-peptides; oxytocin; insulin-like growth factor 2; AIRE
13.  Plasmodium falciparum–Mediated Induction of Human CD25hiFoxp3hi CD4 T Cells Is Independent of Direct TCR Stimulation and Requires IL-2, IL-10 and TGFβ 
PLoS Pathogens  2009;5(8):e1000543.
CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) regulate disease-associated immunity and excessive inflammatory responses, and numbers of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ Tregs are increased during malaria infection. The mechanisms governing their generation, however, remain to be elucidated. In this study we investigated the role of commonly accepted factors for Foxp3 induction, TCR stimulation and cytokines such as IL-2, TGFβ and IL-10, in the generation of human CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ T cells by the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Using a co-culture system of malaria-infected red blood cells (iRBCs) and peripheral blood mononuclear cells from healthy individuals, we found that two populations of Foxp3hi and Foxp3int CD4+CD25hi T cells with a typical Treg phenotype (CTLA-4+, CD127low, CD39+, ICOS+, TNFRII+) were induced. Pro-inflammatory cytokine production was confined to the Foxp3int subset (IFNγ, IL-4 and IL-17) and inversely correlated with high relative levels of Foxp3hi cells, consistent with Foxp3hi CD4 T cell–mediated inhibition of parasite-induced effector cytokine T cell responses. Both Foxp3hi and Foxp3int cells were derived primarily from proliferating CD4+CD25− T cells with a further significant contribution from CD25+Foxp3+ natural Treg cells to the generation of the Foxp3hi subset. Generation of Foxp3hi, but not Foxp3int, cells specifically required TGFβ1 and IL-10. Add-back experiments showed that monocytes expressing increased levels of co-stimulatory molecules were sufficient for iRBC-mediated induction of Foxp3 in CD4 T cells. Foxp3 induction was driven by IL-2 from CD4 T cells stimulated in an MHC class II–dependent manner. However, transwell separation experiments showed that direct contact of monocytes with the cells that acquire Foxp3 expression was not required. This novel TCR-independent and therefore antigen-non specific mechanism for by-stander CD4+CD25hiFoxp3+ cell induction is likely to reflect a process also occurring in vivo as a consequence of immune activation during malaria infection, and potentially a range of other infectious diseases.
Author Summary
Infection with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum affects 300–600 million people each year. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) expressing the transcription factor Foxp3, which drives genes involved in immunosuppression, are specialized immune cells that can inhibit both protective and harmful inflammatory responses during malaria. While Treg numbers are increased during malaria infection, little is known about how they are induced by the parasite. We addressed this question using an in vitro culture system to model the interaction of the malaria parasite with human immune cells. We found that the parasite induced soluble immune mediators, including the T cell growth-factor IL-2 and the regulatory proteins IL-10 and TGFβ, which drive the induction and expansion of Tregs. These Tregs expressed high levels of Foxp3 and suppressed the production of inflammation and protective immunity-driving mediators by concurrently induced effector T cells. Importantly, we demonstrate that induction of Tregs by the malaria parasite did not necessarily require direct contact with antigen-presenting cells. Our findings suggest that the parasite induces Tregs in an antigen non-specific manner, which may explain why malarial immunosuppression is not confined to malaria-specific immune responses, and provide new insights into the mechanisms governing Treg induction during malaria infection, and potentially other infectious diseases.
PMCID: PMC2718810  PMID: 19680449
14.  Thy-1 triggers mouse thymocyte apoptosis through a bcl-2-resistant mechanism 
Programmed cell death plays an important role during thymocyte development, since a vast majority (97%) of mouse cortical thymocytes die in thymus, whereas only 3% of these cells are rescued from cell death and positively selected. Although it seems well established that thymocyte fate depends upon appropriate surface-expressed T cell receptor, little is known about the molecular mechanism(s) responsible for the massive thymocyte elimination that occurs in the thymus. We report here that Thy-1 is capable of triggering mouse thymocyte death in vitro through a bcl-2-resistant mechanism. We have previously shown that Thy-1 is involved in mouse thymocyte adhesion to thymic stroma through interaction with an epithelial cell ligand. To examine the Thy- 1 signaling function in thymocytes, we have mimicked its interaction with stromal cells by culturing mouse thymocytes onto tissue culture plates coated with monoclonal antibodies (mAb) directed at distinct Thy- 1 epitope regions. mAb recognizing determinants in a defined Thy-1 structural domain, but not others, were found to induce marked thymocyte apoptosis as evidenced by morphological and biochemical data. Use of a quantitative DNA dot blot assay indicated that Thy-1-mediated thymocyte apoptosis was not blocked by RNA or protein synthesis inhibitors, EGTA, or by cyclosporin A, and differed, therefore, from "activation-driven cell death". Moreover, Thy-1(+)-transfected, but not wild-type AKR1 (Thy-1-d) thymoma cells underwent apoptosis after ligation with apoptosis-inducing, Thy-1-specific mAb. In contrast to thymocytes, the latter event was inhibitable by RNA and protein synthesis inhibitors, an indication that thymocytes, but not thymoma cells, contain the molecular components necessary for Thy-1-driven apoptosis. We further showed that Thy-1-triggered thymocyte death is a developmentally regulated process operative in fetal thymocytes from day 17 of gestation, but not in peripheral T cells. Indeed, the target of apoptosis by anti-Thy-1 was found to reside mainly within the CD4+8+3- and CD4+8+3lo double positive immature thymocyte subsets. Finally, it is of major interest that Thy-1-mediated apoptosis, which was found to be readily detectable in thymocytes from bcl-2-transgenic mice, represents a thus far unique experimental system for studying bcl- 2-resistant thymocyte death mechanism(s).
PMCID: PMC2191406  PMID: 7906706
15.  Genetic and Structural Basis for Selection of a Ubiquitous T Cell Receptor Deployed in Epstein-Barr Virus Infection 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(11):e1001198.
Despite the ∼1018 αβ T cell receptor (TCR) structures that can be randomly manufactured by the human thymus, some surface more frequently than others. The pinnacles of this distortion are public TCRs, which exhibit amino acid-identical structures across different individuals. Public TCRs are thought to result from both recombinatorial bias and antigen-driven selection, but the mechanisms that underlie inter-individual TCR sharing are still largely theoretical. To examine this phenomenon at the atomic level, we solved the co-complex structure of one of the most widespread and numerically frequent public TCRs in the human population. The archetypal AS01 public TCR recognizes an immunodominant BMLF1 peptide, derived from the ubiquitous Epstein-Barr virus, bound to HLA-A*0201. The AS01 TCR was observed to dock in a diagonal fashion, grasping the solvent exposed peptide crest with two sets of complementarity-determining region (CDR) loops, and was fastened to the peptide and HLA-A*0201 platform with residue sets found only within TCR genes biased in the public response. Computer simulations of a random V(D)J recombination process demonstrated that both TCRα and TCRβ amino acid sequences could be manufactured easily, thereby explaining the prevalence of this receptor across different individuals. Interestingly, the AS01 TCR was encoded largely by germline DNA, indicating that the TCR loci already comprise gene segments that specifically recognize this ancient pathogen. Such pattern recognition receptor-like traits within the αβ TCR system further blur the boundaries between the adaptive and innate immune systems.
Author Summary
The human immune recombination machinery can generate approximately 1018 unique αβ T cell receptor structures. The recombination event, once thought to be random, has now been shown to involve enzymatic biases during chromosomal rearrangement; additional biases occur during thymic selection and antigen-driven expansion in the periphery. The furthest extremes of these collective biases result in public T cell receptors (TCRs), defined as residue-identical receptors found across different individuals who share a common major histocompatibility complex (MHC) allele. One of the most prominent public T cell responses found in humans is raised against the GLCTLVAML (GLC) peptide from Epstein-Barr virus. We, and others, have previously shown that a public TCR constructed from the TRBV20-1/TRBJ1-2 and TRAV5/TRAJ31 gene segments dominates the GLC-specific repertoire. Here, we investigate the genetic, biophysical and structural forces that drive this public receptor, designated AS01, with in silico estimates of relative production frequencies during gene recombination, thermodynamic scanning and crystallographic studies of the AS01-GLC-A2 complex. We find that the TCRα and TCRβ amino acid sequences of AS01 are produced efficiently by a process of convergent recombination and employ unique residues, encoded only by the above-mentioned genes, to engage antigen in a highly specific manner.
PMCID: PMC2987824  PMID: 21124993
16.  Premature Expression of Foxp3 in Double-Negative Thymocytes 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(5):e0127038.
Peripheral immune regulation depends on the generation of thymic-derived regulatory T (tTreg) cells to maintain self-tolerance and to counterbalance overshooting immune responses. The expression of the Treg lineage defining transcription factor Foxp3 in developing tTreg cells depends on TCR signaling during the thymic selection process of these T cells. In this study, we surprisingly identify Foxp3+ immature thymocytes at the double-negative (DN) stage in transcription factor 7 (Tcf7)-deficient mice. These Foxp3+ cells did not express a TCR (β or γδ chains), CD3 or CD5 and therefore these cells were true DN cells. Further investigation of this phenomenon in a transgenic TCR model showed that Foxp3-expressing DN cells could not respond to TCR stimulation in vivo. These data suggest that Foxp3 expression in these DN cells occurred independently of TCR signaling. Interestingly, these Foxp3+ DN cells were located in a transition state between DN1 and DN2 (CD4-CD8-CD3-TCR-CD44highCD25low). Our results indicate that Tcf7 is involved in preventing the premature expression of Foxp3 in DN thymocytes.
PMCID: PMC4433242  PMID: 25978037
17.  Zac1 functions through TGFβII to negatively regulate cell number in the developing retina 
Neural Development  2007;2:11.
Organs are programmed to acquire a particular size during development, but the regulatory mechanisms that dictate when dividing progenitor cells should permanently exit the cell cycle and stop producing additional daughter cells are poorly understood. In differentiated tissues, tumor suppressor genes maintain a constant cell number and intact tissue architecture by controlling proliferation, apoptosis and cell dispersal. Here we report a similar role for two tumor suppressor genes, the Zac1 zinc finger transcription factor and that encoding the cytokine TGFβII, in the developing retina.
Using loss and gain-of-function approaches, we show that Zac1 is an essential negative regulator of retinal size. Zac1 mutants develop hypercellular retinae due to increased progenitor cell proliferation and reduced apoptosis at late developmental stages. Consequently, supernumerary rod photoreceptors and amacrine cells are generated, the latter of which form an ectopic cellular layer, while other retinal cells are present in their normal number and location. Strikingly, Zac1 functions as a direct negative regulator of a rod fate, while acting cell non-autonomously to modulate amacrine cell number. We implicate TGFβII, another tumor suppressor and cytokine, as a Zac1-dependent amacrine cell negative feedback signal. TGFβII and phospho-Smad2/3, its downstream effector, are expressed at reduced levels in Zac1 mutant retinae, and exogenous TGFβII relieves the mutant amacrine cell phenotype. Moreover, treatment of wild-type retinae with a soluble TGFβ inhibitor and TGFβ receptor II (TGFβRII) conditional mutants generate excess amacrine cells, phenocopying the Zac1 mutant phenotype.
We show here that Zac1 has an essential role in cell number control during retinal development, akin to its role in tumor surveillance in mature tissues. Furthermore, we demonstrate that Zac1 employs a novel cell non-autonomous strategy to regulate amacrine cell number, acting in cooperation with a second tumor suppressor gene, TGFβII, through a negative feedback pathway. This raises the intriguing possibility that tumorigenicity may also be associated with the loss of feedback inhibition in mature tissues.
PMCID: PMC1913510  PMID: 17559664
18.  Analysis of the first two waves of thymus homing stem cells and their T cell progeny in chick-quail chimeras 
Chick-quail chimeras were used to study precursor/progeny relationships of hemopoietic stem cells (SC) that enter the embryonic thymus in waves to give rise sequentially to the TCR-1+, TCR-2+, and TCR-3+ lineages of T cells. The first wave of SC and their progeny were examined by grafting thymus from 9-d chick embryos (E9) into E3 quails. mAbs specific for chick T cell antigens were used to trace the development of T cells in the recipients. All three lineages of TCR-bearing cells were generated from the first wave of SC. The cortico-medullary transit time was several day shorter for the TCR-1 subpopulation than for the TCR-2 subpopulation, and the peripheral seeding of TCR-2 cells also occurred later in development. The duration of thymocyte production from the first wave of SC that entered the thymus was approximately 3 wk, during which gradual cortical to medullary replacement by second wave SC progeny occurred. When the latter was examined, after transplantation of E7 quail thymus into E3 chick embryos, a sequential generation pattern for the TCR-1 and TCR-2 cell progeny was not evident. Finally, recirculation of T cells to the thymus medulla was defined in this avian model.
PMCID: PMC2189409  PMID: 2666562
19.  Chagasic Thymic Atrophy Does Not Affect Negative Selection but Results in the Export of Activated CD4+CD8+ T Cells in Severe Forms of Human Disease 
Extrathymic CD4+CD8+ double-positive (DP) T cells are increased in some pathophysiological conditions, including infectious diseases. In the murine model of Chagas disease, it has been shown that the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi is able to target the thymus and induce alterations of the thymic microenvironment and the lymphoid compartment. In the acute phase, this results in a severe atrophy of the organ and early release of DP cells into the periphery. To date, the effect of the changes promoted by the parasite infection on thymic central tolerance has remained elusive. Herein we show that the intrathymic key elements that are necessary to promote the negative selection of thymocytes undergoing maturation during the thymopoiesis remains functional during the acute chagasic thymic atrophy. Intrathymic expression of the autoimmune regulator factor (Aire) and tissue-restricted antigen (TRA) genes is normal. In addition, the expression of the proapoptotic Bim protein in thymocytes was not changed, revealing that the parasite infection-induced thymus atrophy has no effect on these marker genes necessary to promote clonal deletion of T cells. In a chicken egg ovalbumin (OVA)-specific T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic system, the administration of OVA peptide into infected mice with thymic atrophy promoted OVA-specific thymocyte apoptosis, further indicating normal negative selection process during the infection. Yet, although the intrathymic checkpoints necessary for thymic negative selection are present in the acute phase of Chagas disease, we found that the DP cells released into the periphery acquire an activated phenotype similar to what is described for activated effector or memory single-positive T cells. Most interestingly, we also demonstrate that increased percentages of peripheral blood subset of DP cells exhibiting an activated HLA-DR+ phenotype are associated with severe cardiac forms of human chronic Chagas disease. These cells may contribute to the immunopathological events seen in the Chagas disease.
Author Summary
The thymus is a primary lymphoid organ that plays an important role on the development of the immune system and maturation of the T cell repertoire. During the normal life span, this organ undergoes involution during the aging and also in the presence of a wide variety of infectious diseases. It has been shown that the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi is able to target the thymus and induce alterations of the thymic microenvironment. In the acute phase, this results in a severe atrophy of the organ and early release of immature double-positive (DP) T cells into the periphery. The effect of the changes promoted by the parasite infection on thymic central tolerance has remained not clear. The present study shows that the intrathymic key elements that promote the negative selection of thymocytes during the thymopoiesis remains functional in the acute chagasic thymic atrophy. However, we found that the DP cells released into the periphery acquire an activated phenotype and its high frequency in the peripheral blood are associated with severe cardiac forms of human chronic Chagas disease.
PMCID: PMC3156684  PMID: 21858238
20.  Generation and large-scale expansion of human inducible regulatory T cells that suppress graft-versus-host disease 
Adoptive transfer of thymus-derived natural regulatory T-cells (nTregs) effectively suppresses disease in murine models of autoimmunity and graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). TGFβ induces Foxp3 expression and suppressive function in stimulated murine CD4+25- T cells, and these induced Treg (iTregs), like nTreg, suppress auto- and allo-reactivity in vivo. However, while TGFβ induces Foxp3 expression in stimulated human T-cells, the expanded cells lack suppressor cell function. Here we show that Rapamycin (Rapa) enhances TGFβ-dependent Foxp3 expression and induces a potent suppressor function in naïve (CD4+25-45RA+) T cells. Rapa/TGFβ iTregs are anergic, express CD25 at levels higher than expanded nTregs, and few cells secrete IL-2, IFNγ or IL-17 even after PMA and Ionomycin stimulation in vitro. Unlike other published methods of inducing Treg function, Rapa/TGFβ induces suppressive function even in the presence of memory CD4+ T-cells. A single apheresis unit of blood yields an average ~240×109 (range ~70–560×109) iTregs from CD4+25- T-cells in ≤ 2 weeks of culture. Most importantly, Rapa/TGFβ iTregs suppress disease in a xenogeneic model of GVHD. This study opens the door for iTreg cellular therapy for human diseases.
PMCID: PMC3552455  PMID: 21564534
GVHD; Treg; Foxp3; Rapamycin; TGFβ
21.  Viral infection of the thymus. 
Journal of Virology  1992;66(5):3155-3160.
We have examined infection of the thymus during congenitally acquired chronic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection of mice, a classic model of antigen-specific T-cell tolerance. Our results show that (i) infection starts at the fetal stage and is maintained throughout adulthood, and (ii) this chronic infection of the thymus can be eliminated by transfer of virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) that infiltrate the thymus and clear all viral products from both medullary and cortical regions. Elimination of virus from the thymus results in abrogation of tolerance. During the fetal stage, the predominant cell type infected is the earliest precursor of T cells with a surface phenotype of Thy1+ CD4- CD8- J11d+. In the adult thymus, infection is confined primarily to the cortisone-resistant thymocytes present in the medullary region. The infected cells are CD4+ and J11d+. The presence of J11d, a marker usually associated with immature thymocytes, on infected single positive CD4+ "mature" thymocytes is intriguing and suggests that infection by this noncytolytic virus may affect development of T cells. There is minimal infection of the CD8+ medullary thymocytes or of the double positive (CD4+ CD8+) cells present in the cortex. Infection within the cortex is confined to the stromal cells. Interestingly, there is infection of the double negative (CD4- CD8-) thymocytes in the adult thymus, showing that even during adulthood the newly developing T cells are susceptible to infection by LCMV. Virus can be eliminated from the thymuses of these carrier mice by adoptive transfer of medullary region first and then from the thymic cortex. This result clearly shows the need to reevaluate the widely held notion that mature T cells are unable to reenter the thymus. In fact, in our experiments the donor T cells made up to 20 to 30% of the total cells in the thymus at 5 to 7 days after the transfer. The number of donor T cells declined as virus was eliminated from the thymus, and at 1 month posttransfer, the donor T cells were hardly detectable. The results of this study examining the dynamics of viral infection and clearance from the thymus, the primary site of T-cell development, have implications for understanding tolerance induction in chronic viral infections.
PMCID: PMC241079  PMID: 1560541
22.  Lipopolysaccharide enhances transforming growth factor β1-induced PDGF-B expression in bile duct epithelial cells 
Background and Aim
Platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF)-B is a potent profibrogenic mediator expressed by bile duct epithelial cells (BDECs) that contributes to liver fibrosis after bile duct ligation. However, the mechanism of PDGF-B induction in BDECs during cholestasis is not known. Transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) also contribute to the profibrogenic response after bile duct ligation. We tested the hypothesis that LPS and TGFβ1 synergistically induce PDGF-B expression in BDECs.
Transformed human BDECs (MMNK-1 cells) and primary rat BDECs were stimulated with LPS and/or TGFβ1, and signaling pathways through which LPS potentiates TGFβ1-induced PDGF-B mRNA expression were investigated.
Stimulation of MMNK-1 cells with LPS alone did not significantly induce PDGF-B mRNA expression. However, LPS cotreatment enhanced TGFβ1 induction of PDGF-B mRNA in MMNK-1 cells and also in primary rat BDECs. Importantly, cotreatment of MMNK-1 cells with LPS and TGFβ1 also significantly increased PDGF-BB protein expression. Interestingly, LPS did not affect TGFβ1 activation of a SMAD-dependent reporter construct. Rather, stimulation of MMNK-1 cells with LPS, but not TGFβ1, increased JNK1/2 phosphorylation. Expression of dominant negative JNK2, but not dominant negative JNK1, inhibited the LPS potentiation of TGFβ1-induced PDGF-B mRNA expression in MMNK-1 cells. In addition, LPS treatment caused IκBα degradation and activation of a NFκB-dependent reporter construct. Expression of an IκBα super repressor inhibited activation of NFκB and attenuated LPS potentiation of TGFβ1-induced PDGF-B mRNA.
The results indicate that LPS activation of NFκB and JNK2 enhances TGFβ1-induced PDGF-B expression in BDECs.
PMCID: PMC3262076  PMID: 22004089
cholestasis; liver; gene expression; fibrosis; bile ducts
23.  Immature Thymocytes Undergoing Receptor Rearrangements Are Resistant to an Atm-Dependent Death Pathway Activated in Mature T Cells by Double-Stranded DNA Breaks 
Immature CD4+CD8+ thymocytes rearrange their T cell receptor (TCR)-α gene locus to generate clonotypic α/β TCR, after which a few cells expressing selectable TCR are signaled to further differentiate into mature T cells. Because of requirements for self-tolerance, immature CD4+CD8+ thymocytes are programmed to die in the thymus in response to a variety of stimuli that do not induce death of mature T cells. We now demonstrate that, in contrast to all previously described stimuli, immature CD4+CD8+ thymocytes are selectively more resistant than mature T cells to apoptotic death induced by DNA intercalating agents. Importantly, we demonstrate that DNA intercalating agents induce double-stranded DNA breaks in both immature thymocytes and mature T cells, but immature thymocytes tolerate these DNA breaks, whereas mature T cells are signaled to die by an Atm-dependent but p53-independent death mechanism. Thus, our results indicate that absence of an Atm-dependent but p53-independent pathway allows immature thymocytes to survive double-stranded DNA breaks. It is likely that the unique ability of immature thymocytes to survive DNA-damaging intercalating agents reflects their tolerance of double-stranded DNA breaks that occur normally during antigen receptor gene rearrangements.
PMCID: PMC2193292  PMID: 10993919
DNA damage; apoptosis; thymic development; actinomycin D; rearrangement
24.  Early human T cell development: analysis of the human thymus at the time of initial entry of hematopoietic stem cells into the fetal thymic microenvironment 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  1995;181(4):1445-1458.
To determine events that transpire during the earliest stages of human T cell development, we have studied fetal tissues before (7 wk), during (8.2 wk), and after (9.5 wk to birth) colonization of the fetal thymic rudiment with hematopoietic stem cells. Calculation of the approximate volumes of the 7- and 8.2-wk thymuses revealed a 35-fold increase in thymic volumes during this time, with 7-wk thymus height of 160 microM and volume of 0.008 mm3, and 8.2-wk thymus height of 1044 microM and volume of 0.296 mm3. Human thymocytes in the 8.2-wk thymus were CD4+ CD8 alpha+ and cytoplasmic CD3 epsilon+ cCD3 delta+ CD8 beta- and CD3 zetta-. Only 5% of 8-wk thymocytes were T cell receptor (TCR)-beta+, < 0.1% were TCR-gamma+, and none reacted with monoclonal antibodies against TCR-delta. During the first 16 wk of gestation, we observed developmentally regulated expression of CD2 and CD8 beta (appearing at 9.5 wk), CD1a,b, and c molecules (CD1b, then CD1c, then CD1a), TCR molecules (TCR-beta, then TCR-delta), CD45RA and CD45RO isoforms, CD28 (10 wk), CD3 zeta (12-13 wk), and CD6 (12,75 wk). Whereas CD2 was not expressed at the time of initiation of thymic lymphopoiesis, a second CD58 ligand, CD48, was expressed at 8.2 wk, suggesting a role for CD48 early in thymic development. Taken together, these data define sequential phenotypic and morphologic changes that occur in human thymus coincident with thymus colonization by hematopoietic stem cells and provide insight into the molecules that are involved in the earliest stages of human T cell development.
PMCID: PMC2191968  PMID: 7699329
25.  Early Double-Negative Thymocyte Export in Trypanosoma cruzi Infection Is Restricted by Sphingosine Receptors and Associated with Human Chagas Disease 
The protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi is able to target the thymus and induce alterations of the thymic microenvironmental and lymphoid compartments. Acute infection results in severe atrophy of the organ and early release of immature thymocytes into the periphery. To date, the pathophysiological effects of thymic changes promoted by parasite-inducing premature release of thymocytes to the periphery has remained elusive. Herein, we show that sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P), a potent mediator of T cell chemotaxis, plays a role in the exit of immature double-negative thymocytes in experimental Chagas disease. In thymuses from T. cruzi-infected mice we detected reduced transcription of the S1P kinase 1 and 2 genes related to S1P biosynthesis, together with increased transcription of the SGPL1 sphingosine-1-lyase gene, whose product inactivates S1P. These changes were associated with reduced intrathymic levels of S1P kinase activity. Interestingly, double-negative thymocytes from infected animals expressed high levels of the S1P receptor during infection, and migrated to lower levels of S1P. Moreover, during T. cruzi infection, this thymocyte subset expresses high levels of IL-17 and TNF-α cytokines upon polyclonal stimulation. In vivo treatment with the S1P receptor antagonist FTY720 resulted in recovery the numbers of double-negative thymocytes in infected thymuses to physiological levels. Finally, we showed increased numbers of double-negative T cells in the peripheral blood in severe cardiac forms of human Chagas disease.
Author Summary
The formation of mature lineage-committed T cells requires the specialized environment of the thymus, a central organ of the immune system supporting the development of self-tolerant T cells. Key events of intrathymic T-cell development include lineage commitment, selection events and thymic emigration. This organ undergoes physiological involution during aging. However, acute thymic atrophy can occur in the presence autoimmune diseases, malignant tumors and infections caused by intracellular pathogens. The present study shows that the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma cruzi changes the thymic microenvironmental and lymphoid compartments, resulting in premature release of very immature CD4−CD8− double-negative thymocytes, TCRneg/low, which bear a pro-inflammatory activation profile. Strikingly, we also found elevated levels of these undifferentiated T lymphocytes in the peripheral blood of patients in severe cardiac forms of chronic Chagas disease. Importantly, we provided evidence that migration of CD4−CD8− T cells from infected mouse thymus is due to sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor-1-dependent chemotaxis. These findings point to an important role for bioactive signaling sphingolipids in the thymic escape of immature thymocytes to the periphery in Chagas disease.
PMCID: PMC4199546  PMID: 25330249

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