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Induction of self-tolerance in developing T cells depends on medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs), whose development, in turn, requires signals from single-positive (SP) thymocytes. Thus, the absence of SP thymocytes in Tcra(-/-) mice results in a profound deficiency in mTECs. Here, we have probed the mechanism that underlies this requirement for cross-talk with thymocytes in medullary development. Previous studies have implicated nonclassical NF-κB as a pathway important in the development of mTECs, because mice lacking RelB, NIK, or IKKα, critical components of this pathway, have an almost complete absence of mTECs, with resulting autoimmune pathology. We therefore assessed the effect of selective deletion in TEC of TNF receptor-associated factor 3 (TRAF3), an inhibitor of nonclassical NF-κB signaling. Deletion of TRAF3 in thymic epithelial cells allowed RelB-dependent development of normal numbers of AIRE-expressing mTECs in the complete absence of SP thymocytes. Thus, mTEC development can occur in the absence of cross-talk with SP thymocytes, and signals provided by SP T cells are needed to overcome TRAF3-imposed arrest in mTEC development mediated by inhibition of nonclassical NF-κB. We further observed that TRAF3 deletion is also capable of overcoming all requirements for LTβR and CD40, which are otherwise necessary for mTEC development, but is not sufficient to overcome the requirement for RANKL, indicating a role for RANKL that is distinct from the signals provided by SP thymocytes. We conclude that TRAF3 plays a central role in regulation of mTEC development by imposing requirements for SP T cells and costimulation-mediated cross-talk in generation of the medullary compartment.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date





21107 - 21112


Animals, CD40 Antigens, Cell Differentiation, Flow Cytometry, Immunohistochemistry, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Knockout, Receptor Cross-Talk, Self Tolerance, T-Lymphocytes, TNF Receptor-Associated Factor 3, Thymocytes