A complete understanding of negative selection has been elusive due to the rapid apoptosis and clearance of thymocytes in vivo. We report a TCR transgenic model in which expression of the TCR during differentiation occurs only after V(D)J-like recombination. TCR expression from this transgene closely mimics expression of the endogenous TCRα locus allowing for development that is similar to wild type thymocytes. This model allowed us to characterize the phenotypic changes that occurred after TCR-mediated signaling in self-reactive thymocytes prior to their deletion in a highly physiological setting. Self-reactive thymocytes were identified as being immature, activated and CD4loCD8lo. These cells had upregulated markers of negative selection and were apoptotic. Elimination of Bim reduced the apoptosis of self-reactive thymocytes, but it did not rescue their differentiation and the cells remained at the immature CD4loCD8lo stage of development. These cells upregulate Nur77 and do not contribute to the peripheral T cell repertoire in vivo. Remarkably, development past the CD4loCD8lo stage was possible once the cells were removed from the negatively selecting thymic environment. In vitro development of these cells occurred despite their maintenance of high intracellular levels of Nur77. Therefore, in vivo, negatively selected Bim-deficient thymocytes are eliminated after prolonged developmental arrest via a Bim-independent pathway that is dependent on the thymic microenvironment. These data newly reveal a layering of immediate, Bim-dependent, and delayed Bim-independent pathways that both contribute to elimination of self-reactive thymocytes in vivo.
Kovalovsky, D., Pezzano, M., Ortiz, B. D. & Sant'Angelo, D. B. (2010). A Novel TCR Transgenic Model Reveals That Negative Selection Involves an Immediate, Bim-Dependent Pathway and a Delayed, Bim-Independent Pathway. PLoS ONE, 5(1), e8675. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008675.