A very small fraction of thymocytes has recently been identified that expresses low levels of CD4 in the absence of CD8, CD3, or a TCR. These CD4lo thymocytes appear to be the precursors of the early CD4-CD8-CD3- thymic subset and contain most of the T cell progenitor activity found within the thymus. Here, we examined adult bone marrow for the presence of a similar population of cells and found that 0.5% to 3.5% of C58/J bone marrow cells express low, but detectable levels of CD4 (CD4lo) at the cell surface in the absence of CD3. These CD4lo bone marrow cells display pre-T cell activity, in that they are able to repopulate the thymus of irradiated recipient mice after intrathymic transfer. Moreover, we found that most of pre-T cell activity found in the bone marrow is contained within the CD4lo expressing subset of marrow cells. Although the CD4lo cells found in both the thymus and bone marrow display pre-T cell activity, the CD4lo cells from these two sites showed pronounced differences with respect to their ability to respond to specific cytokine stimulation in vitro. Bone marrow-resident CD4lo cells proliferated in response to both IL-3 and mast cell growth factor in vitro, whereas CD4lo cells isolated from the thymus did not. Furthermore, CD4lo bone marrow cells, grown in media containing IL-3 and mast cell growth factor, retained their pre-T cell activity, indicating that CD4lo cells with pre-T cell capabilities were among the IL-3 and mast cell growth factor-responsive cells. These data suggest that although pre-T cells in bone marrow share the CD4lo phenotype with their intrathymic counterparts, they may be fundamentally different with respect to the environmental factors that control their growth.

This content is only available via PDF.