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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Mar 5;99(5):2989-94.

Different contributions of thymopoiesis and homeostasis-driven proliferation to the reconstitution of naive and memory T cell compartments.

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Center for Cancer Research and Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Following transfer into lymphopenic hosts, naive CD8 T cells proliferate and acquire memory phenotype. Although the acquired phenotype is stable in recombination activating gene-1-deficient (RAG-/-) recipients, in sublethally irradiated mice naive CD8 T cells of donor origin gradually accumulate. The naive cells have been attributed to phenotypic reversion of homeostatic memory cells, implying instability of memory phenotype and restoration of the naive T cell compartment by homeostasis-driven proliferation. We show here that (i) the accumulation of naive CD8 T cells of donor origin only occurs in recipients that have been irradiated and have an intact thymus; (ii) the apparent reversion of memory to naive cells actually results from de novo T cell development of hematopoietic stem cells, present in the donor spleen or lymph node cell populations, in the thymus of irradiated recipients; and (iii) the number of homeostatic memory cells generated in both RAG-/- and irradiated hosts reaches a plateau value and their phenotype is stably maintained even after retransfer into nonirradiated normal mice for 30 days. These findings demonstrate that homeostatic memory T cells do not revert to naive cells. After severe T cell depletion homeostasis-driven proliferation restores only the memory T cell compartment, whereas thymopoiesis is required for the reconstitution of the naive T cell compartment.

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