The Rel-like transcription factors nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) and the calcineurin-dependent nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFATc) control specific points of thymocyte maturation. Thymocytes also express a distinct member of the Rel family, the calcineurin-independent, osmostress response regulator NFAT5. Here we show that IKKβ regulates the expression of NFAT5 in thymocytes, which in turn contributes to the survival of T-cell receptor αβ thymocytes and the transition from the β-selection checkpoint to the double-positive stage in an osmostress-independent manner. NFAT5-deficient thymocytes had normal expression and proximal signaling of the pre-T-cell receptor but exhibited a partial defect in β-chain allelic exclusion and increased apoptosis. Further analysis showed that NFAT5 regulated the expression of the prosurvival factors A1 and Bcl2 and attenuated the proapoptotic p53/Noxa axis. These findings position NFAT5 as a target of the IKKβ/NF-κB pathway in thymocytes and as a downstream effector of the prosurvival role of the pre-T-cell receptor.
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