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The functional capabilities of cells leaving the thymus

The functional capabilities of cells leaving the thymus

Journal of Immunology 132(1): 25-30

ISSN/ISBN: 0022-1767

PMID: 6197445

There has been a controversy for many years over the functional status of cells that leave the thymus (thymus migrants) to populate the peripheral lymphoid organs. Are they immunoincompetent like cortical thymocytes and so probably derived from them, or are they functionally mature like medullary thymocytes? Until recently the techniques used to assess putative thymus migrants have been indirect, but it is now possible to measure the function of recent thymus migrants directly. We used intrathymic injection of a solution of fluorescein isothiocyanate to label thymocytes, and used electronic cell sorting to purify the fluorescent cells that accumulate in the periphery over the following 3 to 4 hr. The migrants have been enriched from an original frequency of about 1:1000 in lymph nodes and spleen, to greater than 98% purity. These cells have been compared with normal peripheral T cells for proliferative and cytotoxic precursor activity in a high cloning efficiency, lectin-induced, limit dilution culture system and in an allospecific limit dilution system. The frequency of precursors of proliferative lymphocytes and cytotoxic lymphocytes and the size of the clones produced is the same for recent migrants and peripheral T cells. Thus by the criteria of proliferation and cytotoxic responses to mitogens and generation of allospecific CTL, thymus migrants, a few hours after their emigration from the thymus, are fully immunocompetent; we therefore see no evidence of a post-thymic precursor-type cell that requires major maturation steps after leaving the thymus.

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Accession: 029353909

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