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J Clin Invest. 2012 Jul;122(7):2384-94. doi: 10.1172/JCI63067. Epub 2012 Jun 1.

Thymocyte responsiveness to endogenous glucocorticoids is required for immunological fitness.

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Laboratory of Immune Cell Biology, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, NIH, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Generation of a self-tolerant but antigen-responsive T cell repertoire occurs in the thymus. Although glucocorticoids are usually considered immunosuppressive, there is also evidence that they play a positive role in thymocyte selection. To address the question of how endogenous glucocorticoids might influence the adaptive immune response, we generated GRlck-Cre mice, in which the glucocorticoid receptor gene (GR) is deleted in thymocytes prior to selection. These mice were immunocompromised, with reduced polyclonal T cell proliferative responses to alloantigen, defined peptide antigens, and viral infection. This was not due to an intrinsic proliferation defect, because GR-deficient T cells responded normally when the TCR was cross-linked with antibodies or when the T cell repertoire was "fixed" with αβ TCR transgenes. Varying the affinity of self ligands in αβ TCR transgenic mice showed that affinities that would normally lead to thymocyte-positive selection caused negative selection, and alterations in the TCR repertoire of polyclonal T cells were confirmed by analysis of TCR Vβ CDR3 regions. Thus, endogenous glucocorticoids are required for a robust adaptive immune response because of their promotion of the selection of T cells that have sufficient affinity for self, and the absence of thymocyte glucocorticoid signaling results in an immunocompromised state.

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