Direct evidence for thymic function in adult humans

Jean François Poulin, Mohan N. Viswanathan, Jeffrey M. Harris, Krishna V. Komanduri, Eric Wieder, Nancy Ringuette, Morgan Jenkins, Joseph M. McCune, Rafick Pierre Sékaly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

196 Scopus citations


The understanding of human thymic function and evaluation of its contribution to T cell homeostasis are matters of great importance. Here we report the development of a novel assay to quantitate the frequency and diversity of recent thymic emigrants (RTEs) in the peripheral blood of humans. Such cells were defined by the presence of T cell receptor (TCR) rearrangement deletion circles (DCs), episomal byproducts of TCR-β V(D)J rearrangement. DCs were detected in T cells in the thymus, cord blood, and adult peripheral blood. In the peripheral blood of adults aged 22 to 76 years, their frequency was highest in the CD4+CD45RA+ CD62L+ subpopulation of naive T cells. TCR DCs were also observed in other subpopulations of peripheral blood T cells, including those with the CD4+CD45RO-CD62L+ and CD4+CD45RO+CD62L+ phenotypes. RTEs were observed to have more than one Vβ rearrangement, suggesting that replenishment of the repertoire in the adult is at least oligoclonal. These results demonstrate that the normal adult thymus continues to contribute, even in older individuals, a diverse set of new T cells to the peripheral circulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-486
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 16 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Deletion circles
  • Immune reconstitution
  • Naive T cells
  • T cell receptor
  • Thymus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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