A Swiss-Japanese research team suggests that mTECs do not share a common progenitor with cortical-thymic TECs (cTECs) that produce T cells, but may actually evolve from them.
T-lymphocytes, or T cells, are a principal component of the body’s adaptive immune system. Together, these cells express a large repertoire of antigen specific receptors that recognise foreign material derived, for example, from pathogens and tumour cells. The generation of these antigen receptors occurs during T cell development in the thymus.
This constitutes, however, a random process that also includes the formation of antigen receptors which respond well to the body’s own proteins, so-called self-antigens. To prevent T cells bearing a self-reactive antigen receptor to exit from the thymus to the rest of the body where they may cause autoimmunity, a mechanism is in place that involves mTECs. These specialised thymic epithelial cells express most of the body’s self-antigens. T cells that recognise their specific antigen presented by mTECs will undergo a process of programmed cell death and are consequently deleted in the thymus.
Anne Zimmermann | Universität Basel
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