Thymus Medulla Formation and Central Tolerance Are Restored in Ikk-/- Mice That Express an Ikk Transgene in Keratin 5+ Thymic Epithelial Cells

Lomada, D.; Liu, B.; Coghlan, L.; Hu, Y.; Richie, E.R.

The Journal of Immunology 178(2): 829-837


DOI: 10.4049/jimmunol.178.2.829
Accession: 068490504

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Medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) play an essential role in establishing central tolerance due to their unique capacity to present a diverse array of tissue restricted Ags that induce clonal deletion of self-reactive thymocytes. One mTEC subset expresses keratin 5 (K5) and K14, but fails to bind Ulex europaeus agglutinin-1 (UEA-1) lectin. A distinct mTEC subset binds UEA-1 and expresses K8, but not K5 or K14. Development of both mTEC subsets requires activation of the noncanonical NF-kappaB pathway. In this study, we show that mTEC development is severely impaired and autoimmune manifestations occur in mice that are deficient in IkappaB kinase (IKK)alpha, a required intermediate in the noncanonical NF-kappaB signaling pathway. Introduction of an IKKalpha transgene driven by a K5 promoter restores the K5(+)K14(+) mTEC subset in IKKalpha(-/-) mice. Unexpectedly, the K5-IKKalpha transgene also rescues the UEA-1 binding mTEC subset even though K5 expression is not detectable in these cells. In addition, expression of the K5-IKKalpha transgene ameliorates autoimmune symptoms in IKKalpha(-/-) mice. These data suggest that 1) medulla formation and central tolerance depend on activating the alternative NF-kappaB signaling pathway selectively in K5-expressing mTECs and 2) the K5-expressing subset either contains immediate precursors of UEA-1 binding cells or indirectly induces their development.