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J Immunol. 2009 Dec 15;183(12):7909-18. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0902632.

Thymus-blood protein interactions are highly effective in negative selection and regulatory T cell induction.

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Department of Pathology and Immunology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Using hen egg-white lysozyme, the effect of blood proteins on CD4 thymic cells was examined. A small fraction of i.v. injected hen egg-white lysozyme rapidly entered the thymus into the medulla. There it was captured and presented by dendritic cells (DCs) to thymocytes from two TCR transgenic mice, one directed to a dominant peptide and a second to a poorly displayed peptide, both presented by MHC class II molecules I-A(k). Presentation by DC led to negative selection and induction of regulatory T cells, independent of epithelial cells. Presentation took place at very low levels, less than 100 peptide-MHC complexes per DC. Such low levels could induce negative selection, but even lower levels could induce regulatory T cells. The anatomy of the thymus-blood barrier, the highly efficient presentation by DC, together with the high sensitivity of thymic T cells to peptide-MHC complexes, results in blood protein Ags having a profound effect on thymic T cells.

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