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Tolerance is established in polyclonal CD4+ T cells by distinct mechanisms, according to self-peptide expression patterns

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Studies of repertoires of mouse monoclonal CD4(+) T cells have revealed several mechanisms of self-tolerance; however, which mechanisms operate in normal repertoires is unclear. Here we studied polyclonal CD4(+) T cells specific for green fluorescent protein expressed in various organs, which allowed us to determine the effects of specific expression patterns on the same epitope-specific T cells. Peptides presented uniformly by thymic antigen-presenting cells were tolerated by clonal deletion, whereas peptides excluded from the thymus were ignored. Peptides with limited thymic expression induced partial clonal deletion and impaired effector T cell potential but enhanced regulatory T cell potential. These mechanisms were also active for T cell populations specific for endogenously expressed self antigens. Thus, the immunotolerance of polyclonal CD4(+) T cells was maintained by distinct mechanisms, according to self-peptide expression patterns.

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