Themis is a new component of the TCR signaling machinery that plays a critical role during T cell development. The positive selection of immature CD4+CD8+ double-positive thymocytes and their commitment to the CD4+CD8- single-positive stage are impaired in Themis-/- mice, suggesting that Themis might be important to sustain TCR signals during these key developmental processes. However, the analysis of Themis mRNA levels revealed that Themis gene expression is rapidly extinguished during positive selection. We show in this article that Themis protein expression is increased in double-positive thymocytes undergoing positive selection and is sustained in immature single-positive thymocytes, despite the strong decrease in Themis mRNA levels in these subsets. We found that Themis stability is controlled by the ubiquitin-specific protease USP9X, which removes ubiquitin K48-linked chains on Themis following TCR engagement. Biochemical analyses indicate that USP9X binds directly to the N-terminal CABIT domain of Themis and indirectly to the adaptor protein Grb2, with the latter interaction enabling recruitment of Themis/USP9X complexes to LAT, thereby sustaining Themis expression following positive selection. Together, these data suggest that TCR-mediated signals enhance Themis stability upon T cell development and identify USP9X as a key regulator of Themis protein turnover.
Copyright © 2017 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.