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See detailProgramming of neuroendocrine self in the thymus and its defect in neuroendocrine autoimmunity
Geenen, Vincent ULg; Bodart, Gwennaëlle ULg; Henry, Séverine et al

in Frontiers in Neuroscience (2013), 7

During centuries after its first description by Galen, the thymus has been considered only as a vestigial endocrine organ until the discovery in 1961 by Jacques FAP Miller of its essential role in the ... [more ▼]

During centuries after its first description by Galen, the thymus has been considered only as a vestigial endocrine organ until the discovery in 1961 by Jacques FAP Miller of its essential role in the development of T (thymo-dependent) lymphocytes. A unique thymus appeared for the first time in cartilaginous fishes some 500 millions years ago, in the same time or shortly after the emergence of the adaptive (acquired) immune system. The thymus may be compared to a small brain or a computer highly specialized in the orchestration of central immunological self-tolerance. This latter was a necessity for the survival of species given the potent evolutionary pressure impacted by the high risk of autotoxicity inherent to the stochastic generation of the diversity of immune cell receptors that characterize the adaptive immune response. The new paradigm of neuroendocrine self-peptides has been proposed together with the definition of neuroendocrine self. Neuroendocrine self-peptides are not secreted by thymic epithelial cells (TECs) according to the classic model of neuroendocrine signaling, but processed for a presentation by, or in association with, the thymic major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins. The autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene/protein controls the transcription of neuroendocrine genes in TECs. The presentation of self-peptides in the thymus is responsible for the clonal deletion of self-reactive T cells emerging during the random recombination of gene segments that encode variable parts of the T cell receptor for the antigen (TCR). In the same time, self-antigen presentation in the thymus also generates regulatory T (Treg) cells that are able to inhibit in the periphery self-reactive T cells having escaped negative selection in the thymus. Several arguments show that the origin of autoimmunity directed against neuroendocrine glands primarily results from a defect in the intrathymic programming of self-tolerance to neuroendocrine functions. This defect may be genetic or acquired during an enteroviral infection, for example. This novel knowledge of normal and pathologic functions of the thymus already constitutes a solid basis for the development of a novel type of tolerogenic/negative self-vaccination against type 1 diabetes (T1D). [less ▲]

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See detailExpression of growth hormone (GH)/insulin-like growth factor (IGF) axis during Balb/c ontogeny and effects of GH upon ex-vivo T-cell differentiation
Kermani, Hamid; Goffinet, Lindsay ULg; Mottet, Marie ULg et al

in Neuroimmunomodulation (2012), 19

Aims: We here address the question of expression and role of GH/IGF axis in the thymus. Methods: Using RT-qPCR, the expression profile of various components of the somatotrope GH/IGF axis was measured in ... [more ▼]

Aims: We here address the question of expression and role of GH/IGF axis in the thymus. Methods: Using RT-qPCR, the expression profile of various components of the somatotrope GH/IGF axis was measured in different thymic cell types and during thymus embryogenesis in Balb/c mice. Effect of GH on T-cell differentiation was explored through thymic organotypic culture. Results: Transcription of Gh, Igf1, Igf2 and their related receptors predominantly occurred in thymic epithelial cells (TEC), while a low level of Gh and Igf1r transcription was also evidenced in thymic T cells (thymocytes). Gh, Ghr, Ins2, Igf1, Igf2, and Igfr1, displayed distinct expression profiles depending on the developmental stage. The protein concentration of IGF-1 and IGF-2 were in accordance with the profile of their gene expression. In fetal thymus organ cultures (FTOC) derived from Balb/c mice, treatment with exogenous GH resulted in a significant increase of double negative CD4-CD8- T cells and CD4+ T cells, together with a decrease in double positive CD4+CD8+ T cells. These changes were inhibited by concomitant treatment with GH and GHR antagonist pegvisomant. However, GH treatment also induced a significant decrease in FTOC Gh, Ghr and Igf1 expression. Conclusion: These data show that the thymotropic properties of the somatotrope GH/IGF-1 axis involve an interaction between exogenous GH and GHR expressed by TEC. Since thymic IGF-1 is not increased by GH treatment, the effects of GH upon T-cell differentiation could implicate a different local growth factor or cytokine. [less ▲]

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See detailInvestigations on the mechanisms underlying the thymotropic properties of the growth hormone (GH)/insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) axis.
Goffinet, Lindsay ULg; Bodart, Gwennaëlle ULg; Renard, Chantal et al

Poster (2011, November 18)

Background. The thymus is responsible for thymopoiesis, i.e. the generation of a diverse and self-tolerant T-cell repertoire including self-antigen specific natural regulatory cells. We have shown that ... [more ▼]

Background. The thymus is responsible for thymopoiesis, i.e. the generation of a diverse and self-tolerant T-cell repertoire including self-antigen specific natural regulatory cells. We have shown that two parameters of thymopoiesis, thymic output of new T cells (estimated by sjTREC frequency) and intrathymic proliferation of T-cell precursors (estimated by sj/Dβ TREC ratio) are severely reduced in adult patients with GH deficiency (AGHD) and are restored by GH injections at physiological doses. In patients with AGHD, there is a very positive correlation between sjTREC frequency and plasma concentrations of IGF-1, the principal mediator of GH action (1). Treatment of HIV+ patients with high pharmacological doses of GH is associated with increased thymic mass and output of circulating naïve and total CD4+ T cells (2). In addition, previous studies have suggested thymic epithelial cells (TEC) and/or thymocytes (thymic T cells) could transcribe the GH gene (3). Objectives and hypothesis. These studies analysed the question of GH transcription and regulation in primary cultures of human (h) TEC. We also investigated the hypothesis that the thymotropic properties of the somatotrope GH/IGF-1 axis could be mediated by thymic interleukin 7 (IL-7), which plays a crucial role in promoting V(D)J recombination at the TCR locus. Results. Primary hTEC cultures were treated with natural secretagogues of pituitary GH, GH releasing hormone (GHRH) and ghrelin. Using sensitive RT-qPCR, we detected neither any transcript of GH or GHV (placental GH variant) in cultured hTEC, nor any transcript of PIT1, the specific transcription factor of pituitary GH. Similarly, the protein GH was detected neither in the cytoplasm nor in the supernatant of cultured hTEC. Only at 1 nM, GH treatment enhanced IGF1 transcription by cultured hTEC. Of high interest, treatment with GH, ghrelin and IGF-1 promoted IL7 transcription by cultured hTEC, but only IGF-1 and epidermal growth factor (EGF) markedly stimulated IL-7 secretion by hTEC in a dose- and time-dependent manner. The specificity of IGF-1 action was demonstrated by its inhibition after treatment with αIR3, a monoclonal antibody against the type 1 IGF receptor. Conclusions and perspectives. Since primary cultures of hTEC neither transcribe nor secrete any significant amount of GH, the thymotropic effects of the GH/IGF-1 axis seem to depend only on systemic endocrine GH. Local thymic IGF-1 could partially mediate GH action within the thymus and act upon thymopoiesis in parallel with systemic IGF-1. Most importantly, thymic IL-7 appears to be an important mediator of the thymotropic properties of the GH/IGF-1 axis. Further knowledge in this domain will be gained with the use and supplementation of Ghrh-/- mice that will be soon available in our laboratory. References 1. Morrhaye G. et al., PLoS ONE 2009, 4:e5668. 2. Napolitano LA et al. J Clin Invest 2008, 118:1085. 3. Smaniotto S et al., Endocrinology 2005, 146:3005. 4. Taub DD, Murphy WJ and Longo DL. Curr Opin Pharmacol 2010, 10:408. (Supported by F.R.S.-FNRS and a Pfizer Independent Research Grant.) [less ▲]

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See detailThe role of the thymus in integrated evolution of the recombinase-dependent adaptive immune response and the neuroendocrine system
Mottet, Marie ULg; Goffinet, Lindsay ULg; Beckers, Alisson et al

in Neuroimmunomodulation (2011), 18

Before being able to react against infectious non-self antigens, the immune system has to be educated in recognition and tolerance of neuroendocrine self-proteins. This sophisticated educational process ... [more ▼]

Before being able to react against infectious non-self antigens, the immune system has to be educated in recognition and tolerance of neuroendocrine self-proteins. This sophisticated educational process takes place only in the thymus. The development of an autoimmune response directed to neuroendocrine glands has been shown to result from a thymus dysfunction in programming immunological self-tolerance to neuroendocrine-related antigens. This thymus dysfunction leads to a breakdown of immune homeostasis with an enrichment of ‘forbidden’ self-reactive T cells and a deficiency in self-antigen specific natural regulatory T cells (nTreg) in the peripheral T-lymphocyte repertoire. A large number of neuroendocrine self-antigens are expressed by the thymic epithelium, under the control of the autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene/protein in the medulla. Based on the close homology and cross-tolerance between thymic type 1 diabetes-related self-antigens and peripheral antigens targeted in β cells by autoimmunity, a novel type of vaccination is currently developed for prevention and cure of type 1 diabetes. If this approach were found to be effective in reprogramming immunological tolerance that is absent or broken in this disease, it could pave the way for the design of negative/tolerogenic self-vaccines against other endocrine and organ-specific autoimmune disorders. [less ▲]

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