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Developmental Immunology
Volume 3, Issue 2, Pages 103-112

Characterization of Thymic Nurse-Cell Lymphocytes, Using an Improved Procedure for Nurse-Cell Isolation

1The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Victoria 3050, Australia
2Department of Pathology and Immunology, Monash University Medical School, prahan, Victoria 3181, Australia

Received 1 September 1992; Accepted 13 November 1992

Copyright © 1993 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.


Thymic nurse cells (TNC), multicellular complexes consisting of lymphoid cells enclosed within cortical epithelial cells, were isolated from mouse thymus by a modified procedure allowing immunofluorescent labeling and flow cytometric analysis of their lymphoid contents (TNC-L). Collagenase was the only protease used for tissue digestion, to ensure that surface antigen markers remained intact. Zonal unit-gravity elutriation was used to enrich the TNC on the basis of their high sedimentation rate, followed by immunomagnetic bead depletion to remove residual mononuclear cell contaminants and a density separation to remove debris. The TNC-L were then released from inside TNC by a short period of culture. The measured contamination of TNC-L with exogenous thymocytes was around 0.5%. Three-color immunofluorescent labeling revealed that TNC-L included, as well as a maiority of immature CD4+8+3low thymocytes, about 12% of apparently mature CD4+8-3high and CD4-8+3high thymocytes. TNC are located in the cortex, where mature cells are rare; the occurrence of mature phenotype cells within these structures suggests that they represent a microenvironment for the selection and generation of mature T cells.