Biobreeding-diabetes prone (BB-DP) rats spontaneously develop organ-specific autoimmunity and are severely lymphopenic and particularly deficient in ART2+regulatory T cells. A special breed, the so-called BB-diabetic-resistant (DR) rats, are not lymphopenic and do not develop organ-specific autoimmunity. The genetic difference between both strains is the lymphopenia (lyp) gene. Intrathymic tolerance mechanisms are important to prevent autoimmunity, and next to thymus epithelial cells, thymus APC play a prominent part in this tolerance. We here embarked on a study to detect defects in thymus APC of the BB-DP rat and isolated thymus APC using a protocol based on the low-density and nonadherent character of the cells. We used BB-DP, BB-DR, wild-type F344, and F344 rats congenic for the lyp gene-containing region. The isolated thymus, nonadherent, low-density cells appeared to be predominantly ED2+branched cortical macrophages and not OX62+thymus medullary and cortico-medullary dendritic cells. Functionally, these ED2+macrophages were excellent stimulators of T cell proliferation, but it is more important that they rescued double-positive thymocytes from apoptosis. The isolated thymus ED2+macrophages of the BB-DP and the F344.lyp/lyp rat exhibited a reduced T cell stimulatory capacity as compared with such cells of nonlymphopenic rats. They had a strongly diminished capability of rescuing thymocytes from apoptosis (also of ART2+T cells) and showed a reduced Ian5 expression (as lyp/lyp thymocytes do). Our experiments strongly suggest that branched cortical macrophages play a role in positive selection of T cells in the thymus and point to defects in these cells in BB-DP rats.

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Journal of Leukocyte Biology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Sommandas, V., Rutledge, E., van Yserloo, B., Fuller, J., Lernmark, Å., & Drexhage, H. (2007). Low-density cells isolated from the rat thymus resemble branched cortical macrophages and have a reduced capability of rescuing double-positive thymocytes from apoptosis in the BB-DP rat. Journal of Leukocyte Biology, 82(4), 869–876. doi:10.1189/jlb.0407213