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J Immunol. 2014 Jan 15;192(2):630-40. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1302550. Epub 2013 Dec 13.

Thymic medullary epithelium and thymocyte self-tolerance require cooperation between CD28-CD80/86 and CD40-CD40L costimulatory pathways.

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  • 1Experimental Immunology Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892;


A critical process during thymic development of the T cell repertoire is the induction of self-tolerance. Tolerance in developing T cells is highly dependent on medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTEC), and mTEC development in turn requires signals from mature single-positive thymocytes, a bidirectional relationship termed thymus crosstalk. We show that CD28-CD80/86 and CD40-CD40L costimulatory interactions, which mediate negative selection and self-tolerance, upregulate expression of LTα, LTβ, and receptor activator for NF-κB in the thymus and are necessary for medullary development. Combined absence of CD28-CD80/86 and CD40-CD40L results in profound deficiency in mTEC development comparable to that observed in the absence of single-positive thymocytes. This requirement for costimulatory signaling is maintained even in a TCR transgenic model of high-affinity TCR-ligand interactions. CD4 thymocytes maturing in the altered thymic epithelial environment of CD40/CD80/86 knockout mice are highly autoreactive in vitro and are lethal in congenic adoptive transfer in vivo, demonstrating a critical role for these costimulatory pathways in self-tolerance as well as thymic epithelial development. These findings demonstrate that cooperativity between CD28-CD80/86 and CD40-CD40L pathways is required for normal medullary epithelium and for maintenance of self-tolerance in thymocyte development.

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