The patterns of development of T cells from the very early stem cells that settle in the embryonic thymus have been studied. For this purpose, mouse embryonic thymuses (14 days) depleted of thymocytes were reconstituted with hemopoietic stem cells from fetal liver (FL) and yolk sac (YS) and T-cell development was followed in vitro in organ culture. It was found that cells derived from FL and YS of 10- to 14-day-old embryos were capable of reconstituting depleted thymic explants and exhibiting membrane markers in a pattern similar to that of thymocytes developing in intact thymic explants. Furthermore, these cells responded to concanavalin A in proliferative and cytotoxic assays as measured by limiting-dilution analysis. Thus, lymphohemopoietic stem cells emerging in the embryo prior to thymus lymphoid development are capable of differentiation in the thymus microenvironment into T cells, identified by phenotypic markers and functions that are characteristic of cells developing in the intact embryonic thymus.
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