Omenn syndrome is a severe primary immunodeficiency with putative autoimmune manifestations of the skin and gastrointestinal tract. The disease is caused by hypomorphic mutations in recombination-activating genes that impair but do not abolish the process of VDJ recombination, leading to the generation of autoreactive T cells with a highly restricted receptor repertoire. Loss of central tolerance in genetically determined autoimmune diseases, e.g., autoimmune polyendocrinopathy-candidiasis-ectodermal dystrophy, is associated with defective expression by medullary thymic epithelial cells of AIRE, the transcription activator that induces thymic expression of tissue-specific antigens. Analysis of AIRE expression in the thymi of 2 Omenn syndrome patients and 1 SCID patient, by real-time RT-PCR and immunohistochemistry, demonstrated a profound reduction in the levels of AIRE mRNA and protein in patients as compared with a normal control subject. Lack of AIRE was associated with normal or even increased levels of keratin and lymphotoxin-β receptor mRNAs, while mRNAs of the self-antigens insulin, cytochrome P450 1a2, and fatty acid–binding protein were undetectable in thymi from immunodeficiency patients. These results demonstrate that deficiency of AIRE expression is observed in severe immunodeficiencies characterized by abnormal T cell development and suggest that in Omenn syndrome, the few residual T cell clones that develop may escape negative selection and thereafter expand in the periphery, causing massive autoimmune reactions.
Patrizia Cavadini, William Vermi, Fabio Facchetti, Stefania Fontana, Seiho Nagafuchi, Evelina Mazzolari, Anna Sediva, Veronica Marrella, Anna Villa, Alain Fischer, Luigi D. Notarangelo, Raffaele Badolato