Recent studies have demonstrated that regulatory T cells (Tregs) develop in the thymus via two pathways involving distinct Treg progenitors (TregP): CD25+FOXP3 (CD25+ TregP) and CD25FOXP3lo (FOXP3lo TregP) Treg progenitors. To examine this process in more detail, we carried out single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-Seq) and TCR-Seq on sorted murine CD4+CD8+ double-positive (DP) thymocytes, CD4+ single-positive (CD4SP) thymocytes, CD25+FOXP3CD73 TregP, CD25FOXP3loCD73 TregP, newly generated mature CD25+FOXP3+CD73 Tregs, and FOXP3+CD73+ recirculating/long-term resident Tregs (RT-Tregs). Sorted populations were individually hashtagged and then combined into one scRNA-Seq/TCR-Seq library before sequencing and subsequent analysis. We found that both CD25+ TregP and FOXP3lo TregP arise via an initial agonist-activated state that gives rise to a second transitional stage before differentiating into mature Tregs. Using both scRNA-Seq and bulk RNA-Seq on sorted thymocyte subsets, we demonstrate that CD25+ TregP are significantly enriched for Il2 production, suggesting that they are the major source of IL-2 needed to convert TregP into mature Tregs. Using TCR-Seq, we found that several TCRs were clearly biased in favor of the conventional or Treg lineages, but that a large fraction of TCRs were found in both these lineages. Finally, we found that RT-Tregs in the thymus are not monomorphic but are composed of multiple distinct subsets and that these RT-Tregs express the most diverse TCR repertoire of all CD4SP thymocytes. Thus, our studies define multiple stages of Treg differentiation within the murine thymus and serve as a resource for future studies on CD4+ thymocyte development and Treg differentiation.

You do not currently have access to this content.