Peripheral CD4+ Lymphocytes Derived from Fetal versus Adult Thymic Precursors Differ Phenotypically and Functionally

Becky Adkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


There is growing evidence that the differentiation processes in the fetal and adult thymus are not identical. However, there is little information on whether these developmental differences influence the properties of mature cells that exit the thymus and seed peripheral lymphoid organs. We have addressed this issue by comparing the development of Ag-specific Th1/Th2 function by fetal vs adult thymic derived CD4+ cells in the same adoptive adult hosts. Host mice were irradiated and transplanted with 14- to 15-day fetal thymic lobes from Thy-1 congenic mice. Ag (keyhole limpet hemocyanin)-specific Th1/Th2 responses of fetal-derived (donor) or adult-derived (host) CD4+ cells were analyzed by ELISA following primary or secondary immunization. Fetal-derived cells produced up to 10-fold more of both Th1 (IFN-γ) and Th2 (IL-4) cytokines than did adult-derived cells. Comparisons of the IL-4:IFN-γ ratios showed that the responses of fetal-derived cells were Th2-skewed in an Ag dose-dependent manner. At low doses of Ag, the fetal-derived ratio was ∼5 times higher than the adult-derived ratio. As the Ag dose was increased, the differences between the ratios of the fetal- and adult-derived responses were minimized. These relative responses were established initially during the primary effector phase but were maintained for weeks, into the memory phase of the immune response. Importantly, fetal-derived CD4+ cells showed these properties whether the fetal thymic precursors matured within the fetal or adult thymic microenvironment. These results demonstrate that cells arising from fetal thymic precursors are functionally different both qualitatively and quantitatively from adult-derived cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5157-5164
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 15 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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