Thymic B Cells Are Licensed to Present Self Antigens for Central T Cell Tolerance Induction

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Abstract

Thymic antigen-presenting cells (APCs) such as dendritic cells and medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) use distinct strategies of self-antigen expression and presentation to mediate central tolerance. The thymus also harbors B cells; whether they also display unique tolerogenic features and how they genealogically relate to peripheral B cells is unclear. Here, we found that Aire is expressed in thymic but not peripheral B cells. Aire expression in thymic B cells coincided with major histocompatibility class II (MHCII) and CD80 upregulation and immunoglobulin class-switching. These features were recapitulated upon immigration of naive peripheral B cells into the thymus, whereby this intrathymic licensing required CD40 signaling in the context of cognate interactions with autoreactive CD4+ thymocytes. Moreover, a licensing-dependent neo-antigen selectively upregulated in immigrating B cells mediated negative selection through direct presentation. Thus, autoreactivity within the nascent T cell repertoire fuels a feed forward loop that endows thymic B cells with tolerogenic features.

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