Thymic involution perturbs negative selection leading to autoreactive T cells that induce chronic inflammation

Brandon D. Coder, Hongjun Wang, Linhui Ruan, Dong Ming Su

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74 Scopus citations


Thymic involution and the subsequent amplified release of autoreactive T cells increase the susceptibility toward developing autoimmunity, but whether they induce chronic inflammation with advanced age remains unclear. The presence of chronic low-level proinflammatory factors in elderly individuals (termed inflammaging) is a significant risk factor for morbidity and mortality in virtually every chronic age-related disease. To determine how thymic involution leads to the persistent release and activation of autoreactive T cells capable of inducing inflammaging, we used a Foxn1 conditional knockout mouse model that induces accelerated thymic involution while maintaining a young periphery. We found that thymic involution leads to T cell activation shortly after thymic egress, which is accompanied by a chronic inflammatory phenotype consisting of cellular infiltration into non- lymphoid tissues, increased TNF-α production, and elevated serum IL-6. Autoreactive T cell clones were detected in the periphery of Foxn1 conditional knockout mice. A failure of negative selection, facilitated by decreased expression of Aire rather than impaired regulatory T cell generation, led to autoreactive T cell generation. Furthermore, the young environment can reverse age-related regulatory T cell accumulation in naturally aged mice, but not inflammatory infiltration. Taken together, these findings identify thymic involution and the persistent activation of autoreactive T cells as a contributing source of chronic inflammation (inflammaging).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5825-5837
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2015


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