Lymphocyte development in irradiated thymuses was analyzed using two complementary strategies: an in vitro experimental model and computer simulations. In the in vitro model, fetal thymus lobes were irradiated and the regeneration of cells that survived irradiation were examined, with the results compared to those of reconstitution of the thymus by donor bone marrow cells and their competition with the thymic resident cells. In vitro measurements of resident cell kinetics showed that cell proliferation is slowed down significantly after a relatively low (10 Gy) irradiation dose. Although the number of thymocytes that survived irradiation remained low for several days post-irradiation, further colonization by donor cells was not possible, unless performed within 6 h after irradiation. These experimental results, coupled with the analysis by computer simulations, suggest that bone marrow cell engraftment in the irradiated thymus may be limited by the presence of radiation-surviving thymic resident cells and the reduced availability of seeding niches.