In the thymus, developing T cells that react against self-antigens with high affinity are deleted in the process of negative selection. An essential component of this process is the display of self-antigens, including those whose expression are usually restricted to specific tissues, to developing T cells within the thymus. The Autoimmune Regulator (Aire) gene plays a crucial role in the expression of tissue specific self-antigens within the thymus, and disruption of Aire function results in spontaneous autoimmunity in both humans and mice. Recent advances have been made in our understanding of how Aire influences the expression of thousands of tissue-specific antigens in the thymus. Additional roles of Aire, including roles in chemokine and cytokine expression, have also been revealed. Factors important in the differentiation of Aire-expressing medullary thymic epithelial cells have been defined. Finally, the identity of antigen presenting cells in negative selection, including the role of medullary thymic epithelial cells in displaying tissue specific antigens to T cells, has also been clarified.
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