Age-related changes manifested in MHC-linked recognition of bone marrow (BM) cells by the thymic stroma were studied in an in vitro model of thymus-BM chimeras. Fetal thymuses (FT) depleted of self-lymphocytes were colonized with BM cells from syngeneic and allogeneic donor mice. When cells from young (3-month-old) or old (24-month-old) donors syngeneic to the stroma were seeded in a mixture with cells of allogeneic young origins (C57BL/6J-Thy1.2 and ARK/J-Thy1.1 seeded onto C57BL/6J FT), the syngeneic cells showed an age-related developmental advantage. Accordingly, cells from the old syngeneic mice manifested a significantly reduced capacity to compete with allogeneic cells when compared with the young syngeneic cells. When allogeneic BM cells from young or old mice were seeded onto the thymic stroma in a mixture with BM cells from young donors syngeneic to that stroma (BALB/c-Thy1.2 mixed with C57BL/ Ka-Thy1.l seeded onto C57BL/6J or C57BL/Ka FT), the Thy1+ cells which developed were mainly of syngeneic origin. The age of the allogeneic cells had no significant effect on the results. However, when old allogeneic cells were mixed with old syngeneic cells, the developmental advantage of the syngeneic cells was not manifested. When seeding of allogeneic cells was followed 1 day later by seeding of syngeneic cells, the syngeneic advantage was eliminated, suggesting that the MHC-linked competition began during the first 24 hr of contact with the thymic tissue. When BM-derived thymocytes grown in FT explants were transferred onto second FT recipient explants of the same genotype as the first ones, the syngeneic advantage was abolished, suggesting either that the thymic microenvironment was modified as a result of colonization or that it induced a change in the BM cells. In this respect, the young allogeneic BM-derived thymocytes showed a significant advantage when compared with the old cells. Thus, the MHC-linked syngeneic preference in the early development of BM cells is also manifested in aging mice, yet at a level that is significantly reduced compared with that seen in the young mice.