Haljasorg U et al.
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 receptor activator of nuclear factor κB (RANK) signaling; however, the molecular mechanism behind this activation is unknown. Here, we characterize a conserved noncoding sequence 1 (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.