Massive Thymic Deletion Results in Systemic Autoimmunity through Elimination of CD4+ CD25+ T Regulatory Cells

Fei F. Shih, Laura Mandik-Nayak, Brian T. Wipke, Paul M. Allen

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61 Scopus citations


Incomplete deletion of KRN T cells that recognize the ubiquitously expressed self-antigen glucose-6-phosphate-isomerase (GPI) initiates an anti-GPI autoimmune cascade in K/BxN mice resulting in a humorally mediated arthritis. Transgenic (Tg) expression of a KRN T cell receptor (TCR) agonist under the major histocompatibility complex class II promoter resulted in thymic deletion with loss of anti-GPI T and B cell responses and attenuated arthritis course. However, double Tg mice succumbed to systemic autoimmunity with multiorgan inflammation and autoantibody production. Extensive thymic deletion resulted in lymphopenia and elimination of CD4+ CD25+ regulatory T cells (Tregs), but spared some CD4+ T cells expressing endogenous TCR, which oligoclonally expanded in the periphery. Disease was transferred by these T cells and prevented by cotransfer of CD4+ CD25+ Tregs. Moreover, we extended our findings to another TCR system (anti-hen egg lysozyme [HEL] TCR/HEL mice) where similarly extensive thymic deletion also resulted in disease. Thus, our studies demonstrated that central tolerance can paradoxically result in systemic autoimmunity through differential susceptibility of Tregs and autoreactive T cells to thymic deletion. Therefore, too little or too much negative selection to a self-antigen can result in systemic autoimmunity and disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-335
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2 2004


  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmunity
  • T regulatory cells
  • TCR transgenic
  • Thymic deletion


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