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Developmental Immunology
Volume 5 (1998), Issue 4, Pages 319-331

Appearance and Maturation of T-Cell Subsets During Rat Thymus Ontogeny

Department of Cell Biology, Faculty of Biology, Complutense University, Madrid 28040, Spain

Received 22 August 1997; Accepted 9 February 1998

Copyright © 1998 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.


In previous papers, we have described the ontogenetical development of thymic stromal-cell components (epithelium, macrophages, dendritic cells) of Wistar rats. Here, we correlate those results with the maturation of rat T-cell precursors along the fetal and postnatal life. First T-cell precursors, which colonize the thymus anlage around days 13-14 of gestation, largely express CD45, CD43, CD53, and Thy 1 cell markers, and in a lesser proportion the OX22 antigen. Rat CD3-CD4-CD8- thymocytes present in the earliest stages of gestation could be subdivided in three major cell subpopulations according to the CD44 and CD25 expression: CD44-/+CD25- → CD44+CD25+ → CD44+CD25- On fetal days 17-18, a certain proportion of CD4-CD8-cells weakly,express the TcRβ chain, in correlation with the appearance of the first immature CD4-CD8+ thymocytes. This cell subpopulation, in progress to the CD4+CD8+ stage, upregulates CD8α before the CD8β chain, expresses the CD53 antigen, and exhibits a high proliferative rate. First mature thymocytes arising from the DP (CD4+CD8+) cells appear on fetal days 20-21. Then, the CD4+:CD8+ cell ratio is ≤1 changing to adult values (2-3) just after birth. Also, the percentage of VβTcR repertoire covered in adult thymus is reached during the postnatal period, being lower during the fetal life. Finally, in correlation with the beginning of thymocyte emigration to the periphery a new wave of T-cell maturation apparently occurs in the perinatal rat thymus.