Aire Controls Heterogeneity of Medullary Thymic Epithelial Cells for the Expression of Self-Antigens

J Immunol. 2022 Jan 15;208(2):303-320. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.2100692. Epub 2021 Dec 20.


The deficiency of Aire, a transcriptional regulator whose defect results in the development of autoimmunity, is associated with reduced expression of tissue-restricted self-Ags (TRAs) in medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs). Although the mechanisms underlying Aire-dependent expression of TRAs need to be explored, the physical identification of the target(s) of Aire has been hampered by the low and promiscuous expression of TRAs. We have tackled this issue by engineering mice with augmented Aire expression. Integration of the transcriptomic data from Aire-augmented and Aire-deficient mTECs revealed that a large proportion of so-called Aire-dependent genes, including those of TRAs, may not be direct transcriptional targets downstream of Aire. Rather, Aire induces TRA expression indirectly through controlling the heterogeneity of mTECs, as revealed by single-cell analyses. In contrast, Ccl25 emerged as a canonical target of Aire, and we verified this both in vitro and in vivo. Our approach has illuminated the Aire's primary targets while distinguishing them from the secondary targets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoantigens / immunology*
  • Autoimmunity / genetics
  • Autoimmunity / immunology*
  • Chemokines, CC / genetics
  • Chemokines, CC / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Knock-In Techniques
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics


  • APECED protein
  • Autoantigens
  • Ccl25 protein, mouse
  • Chemokines, CC
  • Transcription Factors