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Developmental Immunology
Volume 1 (1991), Issue 4, Pages 279-293

Characterization of Murine Thymic Stromal-Cell Lines Immortalized by Temperature-Sensitive Simian Virus 40 Large T or Adenovirus 5 E1a

1ICRF Human Tumour Immunology Group, University College and Middlesex School of Medicine, 91 Riding House Street, London W1P 8BT, UK
2ICRF Tumour Immunology Group, University College London, Gower Street, London, UK
3ICRF Electron Microscopy Unit, Lincolns Inn Field, London, UK
4Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, 91 Riding House Street, London W1P 8BT, UK

Received 1 November 1990; Accepted 26 March 1991

Copyright © 1991 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The heterogeneity of thymic stromal cells is probably related to their role in providing different microenvironments where T cells can develop. We have immortalized thymic stromal elements using recombinant retroviral constructs containing a temperature-sensitive simian virus 40 (SV40tsA58) large-T antigen gene or the adenovirus 5 E1a region linked to the gene coding for resistance to G418. Cell lines containing the thermolabile large T antigen encoded by SV40 proliferate at the permissive temperature of 33°C and arrest growth when transferred to the nonpermissive temperature of 39°C. At the nonpermissive temperature, ts-derived cell lines are shown to alter their phenotype but remain metabolically active, as indicated by the inducible expression of class I and class II MHC antigens. Here we describe the generation of a total of 84 thymic stromal-cell lines, many of which show distinct morphologic, phenotypic, and functional properties consistent with fibroblastoid, epithelial, or monocytoid origins. Several E1a and SV40tsA58-derived cell lines generated exhibit the epithelial characteristic of desmosome formation and, in addition, two of these lines (15.5 and 15.18) form multicellular complexes (rosettes) when incubated with unfractionated thymocytes from syngeneic mice. A single line (14.5) displays very strong nonspecific esterase activity, suggesting it may represent a macrophagelike cell type. We describe the generation of stromal cell lines with different properties, which is consistent with the heterogeneity found in the thymic microenvironment. In addition to documenting this diversity, these cell lines may be useful tools for studying T-cell development in vitro and give access to model systems in which stromal-thymocyte interactions can be examined.