Neuroendocrine and Neural Regulation of Autoimmune and Inflammatory Disease: Molecular, Systems, and Clinical Insights
[en] thymus ; type 1 diabetes ; insulin ; IGF-2
[en] The thymus is the unique lymphoid organ inside which a confrontation occurs throughout life between neuroendocrine self-antigens and a recently evolved system with original recombination machinery driving random generation of immune response diversity. Through transcription of neuroendocrine genes in the thymus stromal network and expression of cognate receptors by immature T cells, the neuroendocrine system regulates early T cell differentiation. In addition and more specifically, intrathymic presentation of neuroendocrine self-antigens by, or in close association with, major histocompatibility complex (MHC) proteins is responsible for the establishment of central immune self-tolerance of neuroendocrine principles. All members of the insulin gene (INS) family are expressed in the thymus stroma according to a precise hierarchy and cell topography: IGF2 (thymic epithelial cells) > IGF1 (thymic macrophages) much greater than INS (thymic medullary epithelial cells and/or dendritic cells). Given this hierarchical pattern in gene expression, the protein IGF-2 is more tolerated than INS. Igf2 transcription is defective in the thymus of bio-breeding (BB) rat, one animal model of type 1 diabetes (T1DM). This thymus-specific defect in Igf2 expression may explain both the absence of central tolerance to INS-secreting beta cells and the lymphopenia (including lack of regulatory RT6(+) T cells) in diabetes-prone BB rats. INS B:9-23 and the homologous sequence of IGF-2 compete for binding to DQ8, an MHC class II allele conferring major susceptibility to T1DM. In young DQ8(+) T1DM patients, INS B:9-23 presentation by DQ8 elicits a dominant IFN-gamma secretion by isolated PBMCs, whereas presentation of the IGF-2 self-antigen promotes a dominant regulatory interleukin-10 secretion. These data demonstrate that opposite immune responses are driven by MHC presentation of a self-antigen (here, IGF-2) and an autoantigen (INS, as "altered" self). The important tolerogenic properties of thymic self-antigens deserve now to be exploited for prevention and/or cure of devastating autoimmune diseases such as T1DM.