Abnormal regulatory and effector T cell function predispose to autoimmunity following xenogeneic thymic transplantation.

Document Type


Publication Date



Animals, Autoimmunity, Cell-Survival, Epithelial-Cells, Female, Mice-Inbred-BALB-C, Mice-Nude, Spleen, Swine, Swine-Miniature, T-Lymphocytes-Regulatory, Thymus-Gland, Transplantation-Immunology, Transplantation-Heterologous

First Page


Last Page


JAX Source

J Immunol 2008 Dec; 181(11):7649-59.


Porcine thymus grafts support robust murine and human thymopoiesis, generating a diverse T cell repertoire that is deleted of donor and host-reactive cells, achieving specific xenograft tolerance. Positive selection is mediated exclusively by the xenogeneic thymic MHC. Although thymectomized, T cell-depleted normal mice usually remain healthy following xenogeneic thymic transplantation, thymus-grafted congenitally athymic mice frequently develop multiorgan autoimmunity. We investigated the etiology of this syndrome by adoptively transferring lymphocyte populations from fetal pig thymus-grafted BALB/c nude mice to secondary BALB/c nude recipients. Fetal pig thymus-grafted nude mice generated normal numbers of CD25(+)Foxp3(+)CD4 T cells, but these cells lacked the capacity to block autoimmunity. Moreover, thymocytes and peripheral CD4(+)CD25(-) cells from fetal pig thymus-grafted nude mice, but not those from normal mice, induced autoimmunity in nude recipients. Injection of thymic epithelial cells from normal BALB/c mice into fetal pig thymus grafts reduced autoimmunity and enhanced regulatory function of splenocytes. Our data implicate abnormalities in postthymic maturation, expansion, and/or survival of T cells positively selected by a xenogeneic MHC, as well as incomplete intrathymic deletion of thymocytes recognizing host tissue-specific Ags, in autoimmune pathogenesis. Regulatory cell function is enhanced and negative selection of host-specific thymocytes may potentially also be improved by coimplantation of recipient thymic epithelial cells in the thymus xenograft.