Central tolerance can be mediated by peripheral dendritic cells (DCs) that transport innocuous antigens (Ags) to the thymus for presentation to developing T cells, but the responsible DC subsets remained poorly defined. Immature plasmacytoid DCs (pDCs) express CCR9, a chemokine receptor involved in migration of T cell precursors to the thymus. We show here that CCR9 mediated efficient thymic entry of endogenous or i.v. transfused pDCs. pDCs activated by Toll-like receptor (TLR) ligands downregulated CCR9 and lost their ability to home to the thymus. Moreover, endogenous pDCs took up subcutaneously injected fluorescent Ag and, in the absence of TLR signals, transported Ag to the thymus in a CCR9-dependent fashion. Injected, Ag-loaded pDCs effectively deleted Ag-specific thymocytes, and this thymic clonal deletion required CCR9-mediated homing and was prevented by infectious signals. Thus, peripheral pDCs can contribute to immune tolerance through CCR9-dependent transport of peripheral Ags and subsequent deletion of Ag-reactive thymocytes.
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