Themis controls thymocyte selection through regulation of T cell antigen receptor-mediated signaling.
Themis (thymocyte-expressed molecule involved in selection), a member of a family of proteins with unknown functions, is highly conserved among vertebrates. Here we found that Themis had high expression in thymocytes between the pre-T cell antigen receptor (pre-TCR) and positive-selection checkpoints and low expression in mature T cells. Themis-deficient thymocytes showed defective positive selection, which resulted in fewer mature thymocytes. Negative selection was also impaired in Themis-deficient mice. A greater percentage of Themis-deficient T cells had CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) regulatory and CD62L(lo)CD44(hi) memory phenotypes than did wild-type T cells. In support of the idea that Themis is involved in TCR signaling, this protein was phosphorylated quickly after TCR stimulation and was needed for optimal TCR-driven calcium mobilization and activation of the kinase Erk.