Atrophied thymus produces altered repertoire of tTregs with potential to break the balance of peripheral tolerance




Oh, Jiyoung
Thomas, Rachel
Wang, Weikan
Su, Dong-Ming


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Purpose: We have previously shown that in the age-related atrophied thymus, there is an increased ratio of thymic T regulatory (tTreg) cells to thymic T conventional (tTcon) cells, suggesting that the aged thymus has an enhanced tTreg generation. It is also known that in the periphery of aged mice and humans, there is an accumulation of peripheral Tregs. We raise the following question: why is the increased Treg population unable to suppress self-reactivity in the elderly? Methods: We utilized a sub-lethally irradiated chimeric mouse model in which OT-II TCR transgenic bone-marrow cells were transplanted into RIP-mOVA host mice. Therefore, OVA serves as a mock self-antigen, and because this transgene is driven by the rat insulin promotor, the pancreas of these mice expresses OVA. Further, the mOVA mice also carry a FoxN1-floxed gene, which can be conditionally knocked-out via CreERT transgene activation by injection(s) with tamoxifen to induce thymic atrophy. Results: We observed that chimera mice with induced thymic atrophy show total Tregs (termed pan-Tregs) were increased but OT-II specific Tregs were slightly decreased in the spleen. Additionally, there is a dramatic decrease in the OTII-specific Tregs found in the pancreas, and pancreatic atrophy was observed in these mice compared to those with normal thymus. Conclusions: Our initial results suggest that thymic atrophy leads to a biased tTreg generation that manifests in decreased self-tissue specific-Tregs. Therefore, although pan-Tregs may accumulate and be enhanced with age, tissue-specific peripheral tolerance may be poised to fail.