Exploring the MHC-peptide matrix of central tolerance in the human thymus

Nat Commun. 2013;4:2039. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3039.


Ever since it was discovered that central tolerance to self is imposed on developing T cells in the thymus through their interaction with self-peptide major histocompatibility complexes on thymic antigen-presenting cells, immunologists have speculated about the nature of these peptides, particularly in humans. Here, to shed light on the so-far unknown human thymic peptide repertoire, we analyse peptides eluted from isolated thymic dendritic cells, dendritic cell-depleted antigen-presenting cells and whole thymus. Bioinformatic analysis of the 842 identified natural major histocompatibility complex I and II ligands reveals significant cross-talk between major histocompatibility complex-class I and II pathways and differences in source protein representation between individuals as well as different antigen-presenting cells. Furthermore, several autoimmune- and tumour-related peptides, from enolase and vimentin for example, are presented in the healthy thymus. 302 peptides are directly derived from negatively selecting dendritic cells, thus providing the first global view of the peptide matrix in the human thymus that imposes self-tolerance in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antigen Presentation / immunology
  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / immunology
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Autoimmunity / immunology
  • CD11c Antigen / metabolism
  • Central Tolerance / immunology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dendritic Cells / cytology
  • Dendritic Cells / immunology
  • Epitopes / immunology
  • Female
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / metabolism
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Ligands
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex / immunology*
  • Male
  • Myeloid Cells / cytology
  • Peptides / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*


  • Autoantigens
  • CD11c Antigen
  • Epitopes
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • Ligands
  • Peptides