The death receptor Fas can induce cell death through the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis in a variety of cells, including developing thymocytes. Although Fas-induced cell death has been researched and modeled extensively, most of the studies have been done in vitro because of the lethality of Fas triggering in vivo. Thus, little is known about the time line of this type of cell death in vivo, specifically, how does the presence of macrophages and pro-survival cytokines affect apoptosis progression. In addition, although the sequence and timing of events during intrinsic pathway activation in thymocytes in situ have been described, no corresponding data for the extrinsic pathway are available. To address this gap in our knowledge, we established a novel system to study Fas-induced thymocyte cell death using tissue explants. We found that within 1 h of Fas ligation, caspase 3 was activated, within 2 h phosphatidylserine was externalized to serve as an “eat-me” signal, and at the same time, we observed signs of cell loss, likely due to efferocytosis. Both caspase 3 activation and phosphatidylserine exposure were critical for cell loss. Although Fas ligand (FasL) was delivered simultaneously to all cells, we observed significant variation in the entry into the cell death pathway. This model also allowed us to revisit the role of Fas in negative selection, and we ruled out an essential part for it in the deletion of autoreactive thymocytes. Our work provides a timeline for the apoptosis-associated events following Fas triggering in situ and confirms the lack of involvement of Fas in the negative selection of thymocytes.
- caspase 3
- negative selection