The induction of central T cell tolerance in the thymus depends on the presentation of peripheral self-epitopes by medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs). This promiscuous gene expression (pGE) drives mTEC transcriptomic diversity, with non-canonical transcript initiation, alternative splicing, and expression of endogenous retroelements (EREs) representing important but incompletely understood contributors. Here we map the expression of genome-wide transcripts in immature and mature human mTECs using high-throughput 5' cap and RNA sequencing. Both mTEC populations show high splicing entropy, potentially driven by the expression of peripheral splicing factors. During mTEC maturation, rates of global transcript mis-initiation increase and EREs enriched in long terminal repeat retrotransposons are up-regulated, the latter often found in proximity to differentially expressed genes. As a resource, we provide an interactive public interface for exploring mTEC transcriptomic diversity. Our findings therefore help construct a map of transcriptomic diversity in the healthy human thymus and may ultimately facilitate the identification of those epitopes which contribute to autoimmunity and immune recognition of tumor antigens.
© 2022. The Author(s).