Natural regulatory T cells (nTregs) that develop in the thymus are essential to limit immune responses and prevent autoimmunity. However, the steps necessary for their thymic development are incompletely understood. The CARMA1/Bcl10/ Malt1 (CBM) complex, comprised of adaptors that link the TCR to the transcription factor NF-κB, is required for development of regulatory T cells (Tregs) but not conventional T cells. Current models propose that TCR-NF-κB is needed in a Treg-extrinsic manner for IL-2 production by conventional T cells or in already precommitted Treg precursors for driving IL-2/STAT5 responsiveness and further maturation into Tregs and/or for promoting cell survival. Using CARMA1-knockout mice, our data show instead that the CBM complex is needed in a Treg-intrinsic rather than -extrinsic manner. Constitutive activity of STAT5 or protection from apoptosis by transgenic expression of Bcl2 in developing Tregs is not sufficient to rescue CARMA1-knockout Treg development. Instead, our results demonstrate that the CBM complex controls an early checkpoint in Treg development by enabling generation of thymic precursors of Tregs. These data suggest a modified model of nTreg development in which TCR-CBM-dependent signals are essential to commit immature thymocytes to the nTreg lineage.
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