A study of T-lymphocyte differentiation was made on fractionated bone marrow cells from normal volunteers and from 11 patients with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) using normal thymic epithelial monolayers and their culture supernates as inducing agents. Normal marrow cells could regularly be induced to bear the human T-lymphocyte antigen (HTLA), to from rosettes with sheep erythrocytes (E rosettes), and to respond to the mitogen concanavalin A (Con A) after coculture with the thymic epithelial monolayers or their culture supernates. In contrast, studies of T-cell differentiation on the marrow cells of patients with SCID revealed varying defects, ranging from a complete 'absence' of definable T-cell precursors to partial differentiation resulting in acquisition of one (HTLA) or two (HTLA and E rosettes) markers for T lymphocytes. Only in one patient was there induction of all three T-cell markers, namely, HTLA, E rosettes, and responsiveness to Con A. These observation indicate that SCID is a heterogeneous disorder in which defects of differentiation can occur at one or more multiple sites of differentiation leading to the clinical expression of T- and B-cell dysfunction. Further, our studies indicate that in T-cell differentiation, HTLA probably appears before the capacity to form E-rosettes, and development of the latter capacity is followed by a state of responsiveness to mitogens. A scheme of normal differentiation along with the defects of precursor T cells seen in SCID is presented.
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