Mice given multiple doses of sublethal irradiation to both the thymus and the peripheral lymphoid tissues showed major transient, and some persistent disruptions in general thymic architecture and in thymic stromal components. At 2 wk after total lymphoid irradiation (TLI), the thymus lacked identifiable medullary regions by immunohistochemical analyses. Medullary stromal cells expression MHC Ag or a medullary epithelial cell Ag, as well as medullary macrophages, were undetectable. Instead, the processes of cortical epithelial cells were observed throughout the entire thymus. Strikingly, thymocyte subsets with mature phenotypes (CD4+CD8- and CD4-CD8+) were present in the apparent absence of a medulla. This early, gross effect was rapidly reversed such that by 1 to 2 mo after TLI, medullary areas with MHC Ag-positive cells were evident. However, abnormalities in a subset of medullary stromal cells appeared to be more persistent. Medullary epithelial cells, identified by the MD1 mAb, were greatly reduced in number and abnormally organized for at least 4 mo after TLI. In addition, macrophages containing endogenous peroxidase activity, normally abundant in medullary regions, were undetectable at all times examined after TLI. Therefore, this irradiation regimen induced both transient and long term effects in the thymus, primarily in medullary regions. These results suggest that TLI may be used as an experimental tool for studying the impact of selective depletion of medullary stromal cells on the development of specific T cell functions.

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