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Immunol Cell Biol. 2009 Jan;87(1):58-64. doi: 10.1038/icb.2008.87. Epub 2008 Nov 25.

Back to the thymus: peripheral T cells come home.

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Department of Immunology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195 , USA.


The thymus has long been known as the generative organ for the T-cell arm of the immune system. To perform this role, the thymus was thought to require protection from antigenic and cellular insult from the 'outside world', with the notable exception of the continual influx of progenitor cells required to initiate the complicated process of T-cell differentiation. Overwhelming evidence that mature T cells can recirculate and persist in the thymus has required us to revamp this earlier view of the thymus as detached from outside influence. In this review, we consider the evidence for T-cell recirculation into the thymus, discuss the likely means and location of mature T-cell entry, and speculate on the potential consequences of such close apposition between differentiating thymocytes and mature recirculating lymphocytes.

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