Robust intrathymic development of regulatory T cells in young NOD mice is rapidly restrained by recirculating cells

Eur J Immunol. 2021 Mar;51(3):580-593. doi: 10.1002/eji.202048743. Epub 2020 Aug 13.


Regulatory T lymphocytes (Treg) play a vital role in the protection of the organism against autoimmune pathology. It is therefore paradoxical that comparatively large numbers of Treg were found in the thymus of type I diabetes-prone NOD mice. The Treg population in the thymus is composed of newly developing cells and cells that had recirculated from the periphery back to the thymus. We here demonstrate that exceptionally large numbers of Treg develop in the thymus of young, but not adult, NOD mice. Once emigrated from the thymus, an unusually large proportion of these Treg is activated in the periphery, which causes a particularly abundant accumulation of recirculating Treg in the thymus. These cells then rapidly inhibit de novo development of Treg. The proportions of developing Treg thus reach levels similar to or lower than those found in most other, type 1 diabetes-resistant, inbred mouse strains. Thus, in adult NOD mice the particularly large Treg-niche is actually composed of mostly recirculating cells and only few newly developing Treg.

Keywords: inbred mouse strains; regulatory T cells; thymic niche; thymus; tolerance.