Haljasorg U, Bichele R, Saare M, Guha M, Maslovskaja J, Kõnd K, Remm A, Pihlap M, Tomson L, Kisand K, Laan M, Peterson P
Autoimmune regulator (AIRE) has a unique expression pattern in thymic medullary epithelial cells (mTECs), in which it plays a critical role in the activation of tissue-specific antigens. The expression of Aire in mTECs is activated by RANK signaling; however, the molecular mechanism behind this activation is unknown. Here, we characterize a conserved non-coding sequence (CNS1) containing two NF-κB binding sites upstream of the Aire coding region. We show that CNS1-deficient mice lack thymic expression of Aire and share several features of Aire-knockout mice, including downregulation of Aire-dependent genes, impaired terminal differentiation of the mTEC population and reduced production of thymic Treg cells. In addition, we show that CNS1 is indispensable for RANK-induced Aire expression and that CNS1 is activated by NF-κB pathway complexes containing RelA. Together, our results indicate that CNS1 is a critical link between RANK signaling, NF-κB activation and thymic expression of Aire. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.