Regulatory T (T reg) cells, a specialized subset of CD4+ T cells, are essential to prevent fatal autoimmunity. Expression of the T reg lineage-defining transcription factor Foxp3, and therefore their differentiation in the thymus, is dependent upon T cell receptor (TCR) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) signaling. Here, we report that the majority of IL-2–producing cells in the thymus are mature CD4 single-positive (CD4SP) thymocytes and that continuous IL-2 production sustained thymic T reg cell generation and control of systemic immune activation. Furthermore, single-cell RNA sequencing analysis of CD4 thymocyte subsets revealed that IL-2 was expressed in self-reactive CD4SP thymocytes, which also contain T reg precursor cells. Thus, our results suggest that the thymic T reg cell pool size is scaled by a key niche factor, IL-2, produced by self-reactive CD4SP thymocytes. This IL-2–dependent scaling of thymic T reg cell generation by overall self-reactivity of a mature post-selection thymic precursor pool may likely ensure adequate control of autoimmunity.

This article is distributed under the terms of an Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike–No Mirror Sites license for the first six months after the publication date (see After six months it is available under a Creative Commons License (Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 4.0 International license, as described at
You do not currently have access to this content.