Tissue-specific autoimmunity controlled by Aire in thymic and peripheral tolerance mechanisms

Int Immunol. 2020 Feb 7;32(2):117-131. doi: 10.1093/intimm/dxz066.


Tissue-specific autoimmune diseases are assumed to arise through malfunction of two checkpoints for immune tolerance: defective elimination of autoreactive T cells in the thymus and activation of these T cells by corresponding autoantigens in the periphery. However, evidence for this model and the outcome of such alterations in each or both of the tolerance mechanisms have not been sufficiently investigated. We studied these issues by expressing human AIRE (huAIRE) as a modifier of tolerance function in NOD mice wherein the defects of thymic and peripheral tolerance together cause type I diabetes (T1D). Additive huAIRE expression in the thymic stroma had no major impact on the production of diabetogenic T cells in the thymus. In contrast, huAIRE expression in peripheral antigen-presenting cells (APCs) rendered the mice resistant to T1D, while maintaining other tissue-specific autoimmune responses and antibody production against an exogenous protein antigen, because of the loss of Xcr1+ dendritic cells, an essential component for activating diabetogenic T cells in the periphery. These results contrast with our recent demonstration that huAIRE expression in both the thymic stroma and peripheral APCs resulted in the paradoxical development of muscle-specific autoimmunity. Our results reveal that tissue-specific autoimmunity is differentially controlled by a combination of thymic function and peripheral tolerance, which can be manipulated by expression of huAIRE/Aire in each or both of the tolerance mechanisms.

Keywords: mTEC; NOD; Xcr1+ DC; type 1 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Autoimmunity / immunology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / immunology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Islets of Langerhans / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, SCID
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Peripheral Tolerance / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / immunology*


  • APECED protein
  • Autoantigens
  • Transcription Factors