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Thymic epithelial cells (TEC) control the selection of a T cell repertoire reactive to pathogens but tolerant of self. This process is known to involve the promiscuous expression of virtually the entire protein-coding gene repertoire, but the extent to which TEC recapitulate peripheral isoforms, and the mechanisms by which they do so, remain largely unknown. We performed the first assembly-based transcriptomic census of transcript structures and splicing factor (SF) expression in mouse medullary TEC (mTEC) and 21 peripheral tissues. Mature mTEC expressed 60.1% of all protein-coding transcripts, more than was detected in any of the peripheral tissues. However, for genes with tissue-restricted expression, mTEC produced fewer isoforms than did the relevant peripheral tissues. Analysis of exon inclusion revealed an absence of brain-specific microexons in mTEC. We did not find unusual numbers of novel transcripts in TEC, and we show that Aire, the facilitator of promiscuous gene expression, promotes the generation of long "classical" transcripts (with 5' and 3' UTRs) but has only a limited impact on alternative splicing in mTEC. Comprehensive assessment of SF expression in mTEC identified a small set of nonpromiscuously expressed SF genes, among which we confirmed RBFOX to be present with AIRE in mTEC nuclei. Using a conditional loss-of-function approach, we show that Rbfox2 promotes mTEC development and regulates the alternative splicing of promiscuously expressed genes. These data indicate that TEC recommission a small number of peripheral SFs, including members of the RBFOX family, to generate a broad but selective representation of the peripheral splice isoform repertoire.

Original publication




Journal article


Genome Res

Publication Date





2022 - 2034