Disruption of positive selection of thymocytes causes autoimmunity.
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To differentiate into T cells, immature thymocytes must engage, through their antigen-specific T-cell receptor, peptides derived from self proteins presented by cortical epithelial cells in the thymus, a process called positive selection. Despite this requirement for self-recognition during development, mature T cells do not normally show autoreactivity. Mice injected in the thymus with procainamide-hydroxylamine, a metabolite of procainamide, develop autoimmune features resembling drug-induced lupus. Here, we show that when thymocytes undergo positive selection in the presence of procainamide-hydroxylamine, they fail to establish unresponsiveness to low affinity selecting self antigens, resulting in systemic autoimmunity.