Dis Model Mech. 2021 Feb 5;14(2):dmm046359. doi: 10.1242/dmm.046359.
Autoimmune polyendocrinopathy candidiasis ectodermal dystrophy (APECED) is a rare life-threatening autoimmune disease that attacks multiple organs and has its onset in childhood. It is an inherited condition caused by a variety of mutations in the autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene that encodes a protein whose function has been uncovered by the generation and study of Aire-KO mice. These provided invaluable insights into the link between AIRE expression in medullary thymic epithelial cells (mTECs), and the broad spectrum of self-antigens that these cells express and present to the developing thymocytes. However, these murine models poorly recapitulate all phenotypic aspects of human APECED. Unlike Aire-KO mice, the recently generated Aire-KO rat model presents visual features, organ lymphocytic infiltrations and production of autoantibodies that resemble those observed in APECED patients, making the rat model a main research asset. In addition, ex vivo models of AIRE-dependent self-antigen expression in primary mTECs have been successfully set up. Thymus organoids based on pluripotent stem cell-derived TECs from APECED patients are also emerging, and constitute a promising tool to engineer AIRE-corrected mTECs and restore the generation of regulatory T cells. Eventually, these new models will undoubtedly lead to main advances in the identification and assessment of specific and efficient new therapeutic strategies aiming to restore immunological tolerance in APECED patients.