The thymus is a primary lymphoid organ necessary for optimal T cell development. Here, we show that liver X receptors (LXRs)-a class of nuclear receptors and transcription factors with diverse functions in metabolism and immunity-critically contribute to thymic integrity and function. LXRαβ-deficient mice develop a fatty, rapidly involuting thymus and acquire a shrunken and prematurely immunoinhibitory peripheral T cell repertoire. LXRαβ's functions are cell specific, and the resulting phenotypes are mutually independent. Although thymic macrophages require LXRαβ for cholesterol efflux, thymic epithelial cells (TECs) use LXRαβ for self-renewal and thymocytes for negative selection. Consequently, TEC-derived LXRαβ protects against homeostatic premature involution and orchestrates thymic regeneration following stress, while thymocyte-derived LXRαβ limits cell disposal during negative selection and confers heightened sensitivity to experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. These results identify three distinct but complementary mechanisms by which LXRαβ governs T lymphocyte education and illuminate LXRαβ's indispensable roles in adaptive immunity.
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