Age-related Thymic Involution Perturbs Negative Selection Leading to Autoreactive T Cells That Induce Chronic Inflammation (Inflammaging)




Coder, Brandon
Wang, Hongjun
Ruan, Linhui
Su, Dong-Ming


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The presence of chronic low-level pro-inflammatory factors in elderly individuals (termed inflammaging) is a significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality. Recently, inflammaging has been partially attributed to the persistent activation of immune cells thought to arise from latent viral infection, but the contribution of activated autoreactive T cells towards the development of inflammaging remains unclear. To address our hypothesis that age-related thymic involution leads to the persistent release and activation of autoreactive T cells capable of inducing inflammaging, we performed experiments including: adoptive transfer, kidney capsule transplantation, and tetramer detection of autoreactive T cells on a FoxN1 conditional knock-out (FoxN1-cKO) mouse model that mimics natural thymic involution while maintaining a young periphery. We found that thymic involution leads to T cell activation shortly after thymic egress, which is accompanied by a chronic inflammatory phenotype consisting of cellular infiltration into non-lymphoid tissues and elevated serum IL-6 and TNFα levels. Autoreactive T cell clones were detected in the periphery of FoxN1-cKO mice. A failure of negative selection, facilitated by decreased expression of Aire rather than impaired regulatory T cell (Treg) generation, led to autoreactive T cell generation. Furthermore, the young environment can reverse age-related Treg accumulation but not inflammatory infiltration. Together, these findings identify thymic involution and the persistent activation of autoreactive T cells as a source of chronic age-related inflammation (inflammaging).


Research Appreciation Day Award Winner - 2015 Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Awards - 1st Place Oral Presentation
Research Appreciation Day Award Winner - 2015 Department of Cell Biology and Immunology - 1st Place Oral Presentation