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Immunohistochemical characterization of nurse cells in normal human thymus

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Lymphoepithelial complexes known as thymic “nurse” cells (TNC) have been isolated and described in the thymus of several animal species including man. Most of the investigations on TNC have been carried out in enzymatically digested thymuses in which TNC were isolated by differential sedimentation. In the present study we demonstrate TNC in immunohistochemically stained sections of human thymus as ring-shaped cells completely enclosing thymocytes and localized not only in the cortex, but also at the corticomedullary junction where they have not been previously described. TNC expressed epithelial markers [low and high molecular weight keratins identified by 35βH11 and 34βE12 monoclonal antibodies, a cortical antigen shared with neuroectodermal neoplasms recognized by the GE2 monoclonal antibody, and tissue polypeptide antigen (TPA:B1)], class II histocompatibility antigens (HLA-DR), and thymosin α1. Double staining experiments with the nuclear proliferation-associated antigen Ki-67 and the cortical epithelium marker GE2 showed that most thymocytes enclosed in these cortical TNC were not proliferating. The antigens expressed by TNC indicate that not only cortical, but also medullary epithelial cells are part of the TNC system. The possible role of TNC in the education and maturation of thymocytes is discussed.

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Correspondence to B. Dipasquale.

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Dipasquale, B., Tridente, G. Immunohistochemical characterization of nurse cells in normal human thymus. Histochemistry 96, 499–503 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00267075

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  • Double Staining
  • Epithelial Marker
  • Nurse Cell
  • Neuroectodermal Neoplasm
  • Histocompatibility Antigen