Aire-Dependent Thymic Development of Tumor-Associated Regulatory T Cells

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Science  08 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6124, pp. 1219-1224
DOI: 10.1126/science.1233913

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On the Origin of Tumor Tregs

The tumor microenvironment is often seeded with regulatory T cells (Tregs), which inhibit antitumor immunity. Using mice with genetically driven prostate cancer, Malchow et al. (p. 1219; see the Perspective by Joshi and Jacks) found a population of Tregs that were enriched in the prostate of tumor-bearing mice. Surprisingly, these cells were also present in female mice and were found to be specific, not for a tumor-specific antigen, but rather for an antigen normally expressed in the prostate. Prostate antigen–specific Tregs arose in the thymus and their selection was dependent on Aire, a protein that drives the expression of tissue-specific antigens in the thymus. Thus, Tregs that seed tumors likely arise in the thymus, are not necessarily tumor-specific, and are recruited and/or expand in an organ when a tumor arises.


Despite considerable interest in the modulation of tumor-associated Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) for therapeutic benefit, little is known about the developmental origins of these cells and the nature of the antigens that they recognize. We identified an endogenous population of antigen-specific Tregs (termed MJ23 Tregs) found recurrently enriched in the tumors of mice with oncogene-driven prostate cancer. MJ23 Tregs were not reactive to a tumor-specific antigen but instead recognized a prostate-associated antigen that was present in tumor-free mice. MJ23 Tregs underwent autoimmune regulator (Aire)–dependent thymic development in both male and female mice. Thus, Aire-mediated expression of peripheral tissue antigens drives the thymic development of a subset of organ-specific Tregs, which are likely coopted by tumors developing within the associated organ.

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