Transforming growth factor-beta signaling curbs thymic negative selection promoting regulatory T cell development

Immunity. 2010 May 28;32(5):642-53. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2010.04.012. Epub 2010 May 13.


Thymus-derived naturally occurring regulatory T (nTreg) cells are necessary for immunological self-tolerance. nTreg cell development is instructed by the T cell receptor and can be induced by agonist antigens that trigger T cell-negative selection. How T cell deletion is regulated so that nTreg cells are generated is unclear. Here we showed that transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) signaling protected nTreg cells and antigen-stimulated conventional T cells from apoptosis. Enhanced apoptosis of TGF-beta receptor-deficient nTreg cells was associated with high expression of proapoptotic proteins Bim, Bax, and Bak and low expression of the antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2. Ablation of Bim in mice corrected the Treg cell development and homeostasis defects. Our results suggest that nTreg cell commitment is independent of TGF-beta signaling. Instead, TGF-beta promotes nTreg cell survival by antagonizing T cell negative selection. These findings reveal a critical function for TGF-beta in control of autoreactive T cell fates with important implications for understanding T cell self-tolerance mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / genetics
  • Bcl-2-Like Protein 11
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Homeostasis / immunology
  • Immunoblotting
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Models, Biological
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / immunology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type II
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta / immunology
  • Signal Transduction*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • Thymus Gland / cytology*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / immunology*


  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • Bcl-2-Like Protein 11
  • Bcl2l11 protein, mouse
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Receptor, Transforming Growth Factor-beta Type II