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Developmental Immunology
Volume 8, Issue 2, Pages 123-131

The Effect of Antigen Stimulation on the Migration of Mature T Cells from the Peripheral Lymphoid Tissues to the Thymus

1Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology, Locked Bag no 6, Newtown, NSW 2042, Australia
2Department of Pathology and Immunology, Monash University Medical School, Commercial Rd., Prahran, VIC 3181, Australia
3SyStemix, Inc., 3155 Porter Drive, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA

Copyright © 2001 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.


Although the maturation and export of T cells from the thymus has been extensively studied, the movement of cells in the opposite direction has been less well documented. In particular, the question of whether T cells which have been activated by antigen in the periphery are more likely to return to the thymus had been raised but not clearly answered. We examined this issue by activating T cells present in the periphery with their cognate antigen, and assessing migration to the thymus. TCR-transgenic cells from OT-I mice (Thy1.2+), which recognise the ovalbumin peptide OVA257–264 in the context of H-2Kb, were transferred into otherwise unmanipulated Thy1.1+ C57BL/6 mice. Recipient mice were injected i.v. with 5 μg peptide (SIINFEKL) approximately 24 hours later. The numbers of donor-derived (Thy1.2+) cells in the thymus and peripheral lymphoid tissue were determined. The results clearly show increased numbers of transgenic cells in the thymus 3 days after antigenic stimulation. However, since numbers of transgenic cells increased in the spleen and LN in about the same proportion, the data do not support the notion that there is highly increased selective migration of activated T cells to the thymus. Rather, they suggest that a sample of peripheral cells enters the thymus each day, and that the mature immigrants detected in the thymus merely reflect the contents of the peripheral T cell pool.