Human thymic cell differentiation is almost totally unknown. In the present study we developed an in vitro system using human thymic cloned cells to analyze precursor-progeny relationship. We obtained several CD4+CD8+ double positive thymic clones that could give rise after several weeks in culture only to either CD4 or CD8 single positive clones. By contrast we isolated a unique pluripotent thymic double positive clone, termed B12, which differentiated into four phenotypically distinct T cell clones, namely double-positive CD4+CD8+, double-negative CD4-CD8- or either single-positive phenotype. We derived stable subclones representative of each phenotype and we showed by molecular analysis that they expressed the same TCR. Utilization of either CD3 or anticlonotypic mAb revealed that this TCR expressed by the four subclones was functional.

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