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Paper Chase

Ectopic expression of peripheral-tissue antigens in the thymic epithelium: probabilistic, monoallelic, misinitiated.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.. Oct 14, 2008;105(41):15854-9.
Villaseñor J, Besse W, Benoist C, Mathis D.

Section on Immunology and Immunogenetics, Joslin Diabetes Center, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.

Abstract:

Thymic medullary epithelial cells (MECs) express a broad repertoire of peripheral-tissue antigens (PTAs), many of which depend on the transcriptional regulatory factor Aire. Although Aire is known to be critically important for shaping a self-tolerant T cell repertoire, its role in MEC maturation and function remains poorly understood. Using a highly sensitive and reproducible single-cell PCR assay, we demonstrate that individual Aire-expressing MECs transcribe a subset of PTA genes in a probabilistic fashion, with no signs of preferential coexpression of genes characteristic of particular extrathymic epithelial cell lineages. In addition, Aire-dependent PTA genes in MECs are transcribed monoallelically or biallelically in a stochastic pattern, in contrast to the usually biallelic transcription of these same genes in the relevant peripheral cells or of Aire-independent genes in MECs. Expression of PTA genes in MECs depends on transcriptional regulators and uses transcriptional start sites different from those used in peripheral cells. These findings support the "terminal differentiation" model of Aire function: as MECs mature, they transcribe more and more PTA genes, culminating in a cell population that is both capable of presenting antigens (MHCII(hi), CD80(hi)) and can draw on a large repertoire of antigens to present.