To better define the thymic microenvironment, we have examined a specific population of thymic stromal cells, thymic nurse cells (TNC) for production of eicosanoids. TNC were prepared from BALB/c mice, cultured in complete medium, and culture supernatants were analyzed for the presence of various metabolites of arachidonic acid. Freshly isolated TNC produced large quantities of PGE2 and 6-keto PGF1 alpha (a stable metabolite of prostacyclin, PGI2). Both of these eicosanoids were produced continuously in culture, after an initial lag period of approximately 2 h. No significant production of the eicosanoids PGD2, thromboxane B2, or leukotrienes B4, C4/D4/E4 was seen in these cultures. Production of PGE2 and PGI2 by TNC was not stimulated by treatment with the calcium ionophore A23187, or by cell-cell interactions resulting from coculture of the TNC with free thymocytes. Eicosanoid production in these cultures was not due to production of these substances by cells likely to be present as contaminants, such as T rosettes or free thymocytes. These findings raise the possibility that PGE2 and/or PGI2 may provide signals to thymocytes at a specific developmental stage.

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