The human thymic microenvironment: cortical thymic epithelium is an antigenically distinct region of the thymic microenvironment.
The thymic microenvironment is a complex tissue essential for normal T cell maturation. Prothymocytes in the subcapsular cortical (SCC) region of the thymus undergo cell division and migrate to the inner cortex. The majority of cortical thymocytes cease dividing and die, but a minority are exported to the periphery. We have previously shown thymic hormones in SCC and medullary thymic epithelium and have identified a monoclonal antibody (TE-4) that defines human endocrine thymic epithelium. However, no marker that selectively defines cortical thymic epithelium has been available. In this study, we have produced two monoclonal antibodies, TE-3A and TE-3B, raised against human thymic stroma that bind to an intracellular antigen in cortical but not medullary thymic epithelium. In double immunofluorescence assays in which we used anti-keratin, anti-thymosin alpha 1, and anti-endocrine thymic epithelium antibodies (TE-4, A2B5), TE-3+ SCC epithelium was TE-4+ and contained keratin and thymosin. alpha 1. In contrast, TE-3+ inner cortical epithelium was TE-4/A2B5 nonreactive and did not contain thymosin alpha 1. An ontogeny study of seven fetal and five neonatal thymuses demonstrated that expression of the TE-3 antigen was acquired at 10 wk fetal gestation. Using TE-3 antibody, we observed sequential stages of separation of cortical and medullary epithelium from 12 to 20 wk fetal gestation. In dysplastic (severe combined immunodeficiency disease) thymuses, strands of TE-3+ nonendocrine cells encircled nests of TE-4+ endocrine epithelium. Thus, human cortical thymic epithelium is antigenically distinct from endocrine medullary epithelium. Antibodies against the TE-3 antigen define an intracellular molecule that may reflect a specialized function of cortical thymic epithelium.
McFarland, EJ; Scearce, RM; Haynes, BF
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