Antigen presentation by cortical thymic epithelial cells (cTEC) during the positive selection of T cells has been shown to differ from that of other antigen-presenting cells. In the case of MHC class II presentation, cathepsin L as opposed to cathepsin S is responsible at least in part for the degradation of invariant chain. Other proteases, however, must be involved. We have identified a putative serine protease that is specifically expressed in the thymus. Encoded within the class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC) region, this gene has sequence homology with lysosomal prolylcarboxypeptidase, suggesting that it is a serine protease. We have, therefore, designated this gene thymus-specific serine protease (TSSP). In situ hybridization and immunofluorescence staining reveal that TSSP is expressed exclusively by cortical thymic epithelial cells, with the strongest staining noted around vessels and the thymic capsule. The identification of TSSP further supports the theory that MHC class II antigen processing and presentation in the thymic cortex involves a proteolytic milieu that differs from that of other antigen-presenting cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology