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Transplantation. 2001 Nov 15;72(9):1533-41.

Role of reentry of in vivo alloMHC peptide-activated T cells into the adult thymus in acquired systemic tolerance.

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Department of Surgery, Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, 630 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, USA.



T cell recognition of alloMHC peptide presented by self dendritic cells via the indirect pathway of allorecognition in the thymus induces T cell tolerance. Most recently we have shown that the i.v. administration of immunodominant Wistar Furth MHC class I (RT1.Au) peptide 5- (P5) pulsed myeloid or lymphoid dendritic cells induces operational tolerance to a fully MHC-mismatched cardiac allograft. This finding led us to hypothesize that circulation of peripheral P5-activated T cells to the thymus plays an important role in the induction of acquired tolerance.


We used the adoptive transfer of 111Indium-oxine- (111In-oxine) labeled P5-pulsed syngeneic dendritic cells and in vivo P5-activated syngeneic T cells to study the role of their circulation to the thymus in the induction of transplantation tolerance.


Intravenously administered 111In-oxine-labeled naïve DC actively migrated to and localized in the liver and spleen but did not enter the lymph nodes, bone marrow, and thymus. In vitro peptide-pulsed dendritic cells had a similar pattern of tissue localization except for a modest number of myeloid but not lymphoid DC entering the thymus. The demonstration that adoptive transfer of in vivo peptide-primed T cells induces permanent graft survival in antilymphocyte serum transiently immunosuppressed syngeneic secondary hosts led us to examine the traffic of in vivo activated T cells. Whereas naïve syngeneic T cells preferentially homed to the peripheral lymphoid organs, they did not reenter the thymus. In contrast, in vivo peptide-activated peripheral T cells migrated to and accumulated in the thymus, thus confirming that reentry of T cells to the thymus is restricted to in vivo activated T cells. Although antilymphocyte serum immunosuppression significantly reduced circulation of primed T cells to the thymus, it did not completely abolish it, as seen with gamma-irradiated primed T cells.


These findings provide the first formal evidence directly linking reentry of in vivo alloMHC peptide-activated T cells to the thymus with the induction and possibly maintenance of acquired antigen-specific tolerance. Our results suggest that the thymus is open to a two-way traffic with the periphery and may function as a repository of immunological memory.

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