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Homing of hemopoietic precursor cells to the fetal rat thymus: intercellular contact-controlled cell migration and development of the thymic microenvironment

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Colonization of rat thymic anlage by the first wave of hemopoietic precursor cells (HPc) was investigated by means of transmission electron microscopy and immunocytochemistry. HPc began migration into the thymic anlage between 13 and 13.5 gestation days (GD), terminated colonization at about GD 16, and migrated sequentially through the two compartments of the thymic anlage under the control of typical populations of stromal cells. First, HPc migrated through the external compartment of the perithymic mesenchyme, tightly interconnected with fibroblasts. The type of junctions between the cells indicated that the fibroblasts played a role in the control of HPc trafficking and in their entrance to the epithelial compartment. The second stage of colonization was initiated by the entrance of HPc to the epithelial compartment and their interaction with thymic epithelial cells (TECs). Based on morphological criteria, two populations of HPc were distinguished that colonized the anlage at various stages of its development. The predominant population with ultrastructural traits common to thymocytes “homed” into the epithelial type primordium. A small number of HPc, identified by protein S-100 expression and by Birbeck’s granules as precursors of dendritic cells, colonized lymphoepithelial anlage in which subsets of cortical and medullary TECs could be distinguished. Thymocyte migration and their reciprocal interactions with cortical TECs differed from the trafficking of dendritic cells toward the medulla. The results demonstrated the influence of maturing thymocytes on the development of cortical epithelial cells and the dynamic organization of the medullary microenvironment with direct involvement of dendritic cells.

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Our thanks are due to Dr. J. Jaroszewski for useful comments.

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Correspondence to Renata Brelinska.

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This study was supported by UMS grant 501-2-0003404.

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Brelinska, R., Malinska, A. Homing of hemopoietic precursor cells to the fetal rat thymus: intercellular contact-controlled cell migration and development of the thymic microenvironment. Cell Tissue Res 322, 393–405 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00441-005-1079-7

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  • Thymus
  • Organogenesis
  • Ultrastructure
  • Fibroblast
  • Dendritic cell
  • Epithelial cell
  • Rat (Wistar)