Immunologic Research

, Volume 54, Issue 1–3, pp 177–190 | Cite as

Thymic epithelial cells: antigen presenting cells that regulate T cell repertoire and tolerance development

  • Konstantina AlexandropoulosEmail author
  • Nichole M. Danzl
Immunology at Mount Sinai


During thymocyte development bone marrow-derived precursors in the thymus undergo a series of differentiation steps to produce self-tolerant, mature T lymphocytes. The thymus contains two functionally distinct anatomical compartments, consisting of a centrally located medulla surrounded by the thymic cortex. These compartments in turn are comprised of two major cellular components: (1) the T lymphoid compartment of developing thymocytes and (2) the thymic stroma consisting mainly of thymic epithelial cells (TECs). These epithelial cells are further separated into cortical and medullary TECs (cTECs and mTECs) based on their localization within the thymic cortex or medulla respectively. Reciprocal interactions between thymocytes and epithelial cells are required for the development of both cellular components into a functional thymic organ. Thymocytes provide trophic factors for the development of a complex three-dimensional epithelial cell network, while epithelial cells regulate T cell development through expression and presentation of self-antigens on major histocompatibility molecules. Our work focuses on how thymic epithelial cells regulate T cell development and function and on elucidating the mechanisms of thymic epithelial cell differentiation. Here we review current knowledge and provide our own insight into the development, differentiation and antigen presenting properties of TECs. We focus specifically on how mTECs regulate T cell repertoire selection and central tolerance.


Thymic epithelial cells (TECs) Medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs) T cells Tolerance Autoimmunity Self-antigens 



The authors would like to thank Dr. Yongwon Choi (University of Pennsylvania) for his kind gift of recombinant RANKL. K.A was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) grants RO1 AI49387-01; R56 AI049387-05; R01 AI068963-01. N.M.D was supported by Columbia University’s Immunology Program training grant T32 AI007525-10 and by NIAID grant R01 AI068963-01.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Konstantina Alexandropoulos
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nichole M. Danzl
    • 2
  1. 1.Division of Clinical Immunology, Department of Medicine, The Immunology InstituteMount Sinai School of MedicineNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Center for Translational ImmunologyColumbia University Medical CenterNew YorkUSA

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