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Implantation of cultured thymic fragments in congenitally athymic (nude) rats

Ultrastructural characteristics of the developing microenvironment


Cultured thymic fragments correspond to the thymic microenvironment depleted of lymphocytes and dendritic cells. When these fragments are implanted under the kidney capsule of congenitally athymic rats, lymphocytes and dendritic cells of host origin enter the graft and induce thymus-dependent immunity in the recipient. This paper describes the ultrastructure of the fragments and the changes that occur during the restoration of normal thymic architecture. At the end of the culture period of 6–9 days and in the early stages after implantation, the grafts consist of keratin-containing epithelial cells of unusual morphology that can be labelled with antibodies raised against the epithelium of the mid/deep cortex and the subcapsule/medulla. Normal thymic architecture develops, including nerves and blood vessels, as lymphocytes populate the environment, and by 4–6 weeks the epithelial cells are the same phenotypically and ultrastructurally as those found in normal rat thymus. However, some areas without lymphocytes still contain the atypical epithelial cells seen before implantation. Large multinucleated giant cells are also present with a few associated epithelial cells of subcapsular/medullary phenotype. In conclusion, the cultured thymic fragments contain a hitherto unknown precursor epithelial cell with an atypical ultrastructure and phenotype that is not seen in normal development.

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Correspondence to Henk-Jan Schuurman Ph.D..

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Kendall, M.D., Schuurman, H., Fenton, J. et al. Implantation of cultured thymic fragments in congenitally athymic (nude) rats. Cell Tissue Res. 254, 283–294 (1988).

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Key words

  • Thymus
  • Cultured thymic fragments
  • Epithelial cells
  • Microenvironment
  • Ultrastructure
  • Rat (nude)