T cell development, originally thought to be completed in the thymus, has recently been shown to continue for several weeks in the lymphoid periphery. The forces that drive this peripheral maturation are unclear. The use of mice transgenic for GFP driven by the RAG2 promoter has enabled the ready identification and analysis of recent thymic emigrants. Here, we show that recent thymic emigrant maturation is a progressive process and is promoted by T cell exit from the thymus. Further, we show that this maturation occurs within secondary lymphoid organs and does not require extensive lymphocyte recirculation.

T cell development has been thought to occur in its entirety in the thymus, giving rise to mature naive T cells that circulate in the lymphoid periphery, patrolling for foreign antigenic insults. However, recent studies have suggested that to attain full immunocompetence, further development must occur in T cells that have recently entered the peripheral environment. Such recent thymic emigrants (RTEs)5 are a subset of naive T cells that help maintain the diversity of the peripheral T cell repertoire and are of particular importance for recovery from lymphopenia, when thymic output is needed to replenish the peripheral repertoire and, in infants, when RTEs first seed the periphery.

A challenge to studying RTEs is their lack of a unique cell surface marker. Recent work from our laboratory (1, 2) characterized a new model system that allows unambiguous identification of RTEs from unmanipulated mice and enables the ready isolation and analysis of their function and phenotype. This system uses mice transgenic (Tg) for GFP under control of the RAG-2 promoter (3). Thymocytes from such RAG2p-GFP Tg mice express high levels of GFP, mirroring endogenous RAG expression. Although RAG expression in RAG2p-GFP Tg mice is extinguished by the single positive (SP) stage, a residual, decaying GFP signal remains in cells following thymic egress. Thymectomy studies have indicated that the GFP signal declines with time in the periphery, such that GFPhigh and GFPlow RTEs have been in the periphery for up to 1 and 2–3 wk, respectively (1). GFP naive T cells (non-RTEs) have exited the thymus at least 3 wk previously.

Using this system, we demonstrated that RTEs exhibit a CD24highQa2lowCD45RBlowIL-7RαlowTCRhighCD3highCD28low phenotype relative to non-RTEs (1). We also showed that RTEs differ functionally from non-RTEs, exhibiting a dampened response to stimulation, with decreased IL-2 and IFN-γ production, proliferation, and high-affinity IL-2R up-regulation (1). These striking differences between RTEs and non-RTEs hint that definable forces may drive cells from RTE status into the mature naive T cell compartment. We now show that RTE maturation occurs progressively, requires egress from the thymus, and is driven to completion not in the blood, but within secondary lymphoid organs (SLOs).

C57BL/6 mice were from The Jackson Laboratory and RAG2p-GFP Tg mice (3), originally a gift from M. Nussenzweig (The Rockefeller University, New York, NY), were backcrossed in our laboratory at least 10 generations onto the C57BL/6 background. Mice were used between 6 and 12 wk of age. All experiments were performed in compliance with the University of Washington’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Mice were splenectomized (4) and thymectomized (1) as described previously. For blockade of thymic and lymph node (LN) egress, mice were i.p. injected daily for 3 or 6 days with 1 μg/g body weight 2-amino-4-(4-heptyloxyphenyl)-2-methylbutanol (AAL-R), a sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P) mimetic, or AAL-S (gifts from Novartis), a biologically inactive enantiomer of AAL-R, made up at 1 mg/ml in water plus 0.25% DMSO. For blockade of LN entry, mice were given 200 μg of laboratory-purified anti-CD62L (clone MEL-14) plus 100 μg of anti-very late Ag 4 (VLA-4; clone PS/2) or 200 μg of IgG2a isotype control Ab (eBioscience) i.p. on days 0, 2, and 4.

Single cell suspensions of thymus, LNs (brachial, axillary, inguinal, cervical, and mesenteric), and water-lysed blood and splenocytes were prepared and counted. Where noted, cells were labeled for 10 min at 37°C with 4 μm of CFSE. For flow cytometric analysis, Fc receptors were blocked with anti-CD16/32 (clone 2.4G2; BD Biosciences) and cells were stained as described (1) with Abs against the following molecules: CD3 (clone 145.2C11), CD4 (clone RM4-5), CD11c (clone N418), CD24 (clone M1/69), CD25 (clone PC61), CD44 (clone Pgp-1), CD45.1 (clone A20), CD45.2 (clone 104), CD45RB (clone 16A), CD62L (clone MEL-14), CD69 (clone H1.2F3), Qa2 (clone 1-1-2), and CD90.2 (clone 53-2.1), all from eBioscience or BD Pharmingen. Biotinylated Abs were detected with allophycocyanin-conjugated streptavidin (eBioscience). Events were collected on a FACSCanto flow cytometer (BD Biosciences) and data were analyzed with FlowJo software (Tree Star) after excluding doublets from live-gated samples. Fluorescence-minus-one (5) samples were run where appropriate. For sorting, untouched T cells were enriched with an EasySep kit (StemCell Technologies) and stained to eliminate non-T cell lineages with PE-conjugated anti-CD11b (clone M1/70), anti-NK1.1 (clone PK136), anti-B220 (clone RA3-6B2), and anti-Ter119 (clone Ly-76) (all from eBioscience or BD Biosciences). Staining with anti-CD62L was used as a positive marker for naive cells. Cells were sorted on a FACSAria cell sorter (BD Biosciences) as PECD62L+ and either GFP+ or GFP to >97% purity (for blood sorts, purity was >95% for RTE and >80% for non-RTE).

Per well, 25,000 sorted CD4 T cells were stimulated with 30 ng/ml anti-CD3 and 1 μg/ml anti-CD28 (BD Biosciences) in the presence of 175,000 irradiated splenocytes depleted of T cells by treatment with anti-CD4 (RC172.4R6), anti-CD8 (3.168.8), and anti-CD90.2 (13.4.6) plus rabbit complement (Cedarlane Laboratories). Cells were cultured in 96-well plates (BD Biosciences) in complete RPMI 1640 at 37°C in 7% CO2. IL-2 secretion was measured in 24-h supernatants with the OptEIA IL-2 ELISA kit (BD Biosciences). At 48 h, 1 μCi of [3H]thymidine (PerkinElmer) was added per well, and 3H incorporation was measured after overnight incubation.

To determine whether the phenotypic changes that occur in RTEs are due to selective survival and outgrowth of a subpopulation of RTEs bearing a mature CD24lowQa2highCD45RBhigh phenotype or to maturation of RTEs on a per cell basis, we adoptively transferred equal numbers of sorted CD4 RTEs and non-RTEs into lymphoreplete recipients. Comparable numbers of both cell types were recovered from recipient spleens short term following transfer (Fig. 1,A) and, at ∼10% of input, were on a par with the generally accepted engraftment of transferred lymphocytes (6). Down-regulation of CD24 and up-regulation of Qa2 and CD45RB expression by RTEs was evident during the 7-day time course, even in undivided populations of RTEs (Fig. 1,B). Thus, RTE maturation does not require cell division. The gradual decay of GFP in the transferred RTEs (Fig. 1,C) is consistent with the estimated half-life of GFP in T cells (7). At 7 days posttransfer, > 95% RTEs remained GFP+CD44low/midCD62Lhigh and undivided (Fig. 1 C and data not shown), arguing against significant homeostatic proliferation. The percentage take and the absence of extensive proliferation together suggest that the phenotypic changes in RTEs result from progressive maturation of the bulk of the RTE population rather than selective accumulation of a subset of RTEs already expressing a mature surface Ag phenotype.

FIGURE 1.

RTEs mature progressively in the lymphoid periphery. Sorted populations of CD4 RTEs (GFP+CD62Lhigh) and naive non-RTEs (GFPCD62Lhigh) from RAG2p-GFP Tg mice were transferred to separate congenic lymphoreplete recipients on day 0 (2 × 106 per mouse, >97% purity). At the indicated times thereafter, recipient splenocytes were stained for donor cell analysis. A, Mean donor cell numbers are expressed as a percentage of the number of cells transferred on day (d) 0. Error bars represent SD. Differences were not statistically significant; p > 0.05, two-tailed Student’s t test with equal variance. B and C, Representative CD24, Qa2, and CD45RB expression in B and GFP and CD44 expression in C by donor cells from T-enriched splenocytes at the indicated times posttransfer. Transferred cells were CFSE labeled in B, and data were collected from CFSEhigh undivided cells. Data are from three recipients of each cell type per time point.

FIGURE 1.

RTEs mature progressively in the lymphoid periphery. Sorted populations of CD4 RTEs (GFP+CD62Lhigh) and naive non-RTEs (GFPCD62Lhigh) from RAG2p-GFP Tg mice were transferred to separate congenic lymphoreplete recipients on day 0 (2 × 106 per mouse, >97% purity). At the indicated times thereafter, recipient splenocytes were stained for donor cell analysis. A, Mean donor cell numbers are expressed as a percentage of the number of cells transferred on day (d) 0. Error bars represent SD. Differences were not statistically significant; p > 0.05, two-tailed Student’s t test with equal variance. B and C, Representative CD24, Qa2, and CD45RB expression in B and GFP and CD44 expression in C by donor cells from T-enriched splenocytes at the indicated times posttransfer. Transferred cells were CFSE labeled in B, and data were collected from CFSEhigh undivided cells. Data are from three recipients of each cell type per time point.

Close modal

To explore whether the RTE maturation that occurs in the periphery is a cell-intrinsic program or one that is triggered by signals from the lymphoid periphery, we sequestered RTEs in the thymus by treating RAG2p-GFP Tg mice with AAL-R (8, 9). AAL-R is a synthetic mimetic of S1P, blocking S1P receptor 1 (S1P1), the receptor that is required for T cell exit from both the thymus and LNs (9, 10). The resulting RTE “wannabes” were contained within the GFP+, developmentally mature (TCRhighCD62Lhigh SP) thymocyte compartments (Fig. 2,A). RTE “wannabes” accumulated in the thymus of AAL-R-treated mice, as these most developmentally mature CD4 and CD8 SP compartments increased ∼5-fold by percentage (Fig. 2 B) and ∼3-fold by number (data not shown) relative to the thymus of untreated mice or mice treated with AAL-S, the biologically inactive enantiomer of AAL-R (8, 9).

FIGURE 2.

RTEs require contact with the lymphoid periphery to mature. A, Diagram of experimental conditions. RAG2p-GFP Tg mice were treated daily for 6 days with AAL-R or control AAL-S and analyzed on day 7. B, Flow cytometric analysis of thymocytes from untreated, AAL-S-treated, and AAL-R-treated mice gated on the indicated cell populations. C and D, CD24 expression by GFP+CD62LhighTCRhigh CD4 and CD8 SP thymocytes from AAL-R treated mice (RTE “wannabes”) and GFP+CD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells from AAL-S treated mice (control RTEs). GFP normalization was performed on RTE “wannabes” and control RTEs are gated on GFP+ cells to match the age of these two comparison groups (GFP MFI = ∼1300 for CD4 and GFP MFI = ∼625 for CD8 RTE “wannabes” and control RTEs). Thymocytes and splenocytes from an untreated age-matched mouse were analyzed on the same day for CD24 expression by GFP+CD62LhighTCRhigh SP thymocytes (mature SP thymocytes) and GFPCD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells (naive GFP peripheral T). Representative data are shown in C, and data in D are averaged MFIs from four to five mice per group from two independent experiments, with error bars representing SD. ∗, p < 0.01, two-tailed Student’s t test with equal variance.

FIGURE 2.

RTEs require contact with the lymphoid periphery to mature. A, Diagram of experimental conditions. RAG2p-GFP Tg mice were treated daily for 6 days with AAL-R or control AAL-S and analyzed on day 7. B, Flow cytometric analysis of thymocytes from untreated, AAL-S-treated, and AAL-R-treated mice gated on the indicated cell populations. C and D, CD24 expression by GFP+CD62LhighTCRhigh CD4 and CD8 SP thymocytes from AAL-R treated mice (RTE “wannabes”) and GFP+CD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells from AAL-S treated mice (control RTEs). GFP normalization was performed on RTE “wannabes” and control RTEs are gated on GFP+ cells to match the age of these two comparison groups (GFP MFI = ∼1300 for CD4 and GFP MFI = ∼625 for CD8 RTE “wannabes” and control RTEs). Thymocytes and splenocytes from an untreated age-matched mouse were analyzed on the same day for CD24 expression by GFP+CD62LhighTCRhigh SP thymocytes (mature SP thymocytes) and GFPCD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells (naive GFP peripheral T). Representative data are shown in C, and data in D are averaged MFIs from four to five mice per group from two independent experiments, with error bars representing SD. ∗, p < 0.01, two-tailed Student’s t test with equal variance.

Close modal

GFP level in RTEs is a faithful indicator of their age, as the decrease in GFP brightness correlates well with residence time in the periphery (7). To compensate for the unequal cellular age of RTE “wannabes” and control RTEs, we normalized GFP mean fluorescence intensities (MFIs), excluding GFPlow older RTEs from the control group and GFPbright RTE precursors from the “wannabe” group (7). After GFP normalization, RTE “wannabes” were phenotypically immature relative to control RTEs by the marker CD24 (Fig. 2, C and D). These results suggest that RTEs must exit the thymus to fully complete their phenotypic maturation within this time frame.

However, the phenotype of RTE “wannabes” is intermediate, as Qa2 and CD45RB were essentially at mature levels (data not shown). Thus, part of the maturation program may be on autopilot or the factors driving RTE maturation in the periphery may also be present in the thymus, with lack of full maturation of RTE “wannabes” being a result of quantitative rather than qualitative maturation signal differences. This idea is reinforced by the phenotypic maturity of S1P1-deficient T cells that remain stuck in the thymus (11).

AAL-R (and other S1P mimetics such as FTY720) binds to the S1P3, S1P4, and S1P5 receptors as well as to S1P1, influencing factors such as heart rate (12). Our results using the S1P1-specific agonist SEW2871 (13) were comparable to those obtained with AAL-R (data not shown), suggesting that the maturation defects are specific to blockade of thymic egress.

SLOs are the sites where naive T cells encounter many other cell types, such as dendritic cells, and cytokines, such as IL-7 (14). To test whether RTE maturation takes place in SLOs, we blocked RTE access to SLOs through a combination of splenectomy and administration of anti-CD62L plus anti-VLA-4 to block LN entry, creating “homeless” RTEs (Fig. 3,A). LN blockade was successful, as 6 days following initiation of Ab administration there was a >50-fold reduction in naive T cell numbers in LNs (data not shown). Phenotypic maturation of GFP-normalized “homeless” RTEs relative to control RTEs was impaired for the markers Qa2 (Fig. 3,B) and CD45RB (data not shown). When the Qa2 expression level on “homeless” RTEs was normalized to that of control RTEs, there was a statistically significant difference between “homeless” RTEs and control RTEs for both CD4 and CD8 T cells (p < 0.05, two-tailed Student’s t test with equal variance). Access to either the spleen or LN compartment alone is sufficient for maturation, as the phenotypic profile of RTEs blocked from either compartment alone matched that of control RTEs (Fig. 3,C). Surgical stress and homeostatic proliferation did not influence RTE maturation, as Qa2, CD45RB, and CD44 expression levels in RTEs from splenectomized mice matched those of untreated or Ab-treated mice (Fig. 3,C and data not shown). The Abs coating RTEs to block LN entry did not impair maturation, as the phenotypic profile of Ab-coated RTEs in the spleen matches that of uncoated RTEs from the periphery of control mice (Fig. 3 C).

FIGURE 3.

RTEs require SLO access to mature. A, Diagram of experimental conditions. RAG2p-GFP Tg mice were untreated or splenectomized and treated every other day with anti-CD62L plus anti-VLA-4 for 4 days and analyzed on day 6. Other controls included eusplenic mice treated with both Abs and splenectomized mice treated with isotype control Ab. B and C, Representative Qa2 expression by GFP+CD44low/mid CD4 and CD8 T cells from the blood of splenectomized, anti-CD62L plus anti-VLA-4-treated mice (“Homeless” RTEs), anti-CD62L plus anti-VLA-4-treated euthymic mice (“No LN” RTEs), splenectomized, isotype control Ab-treated mice (“No Spl” RTEs), or untreated mice (Control RTEs). GFP levels of “homeless” and control RTEs were normalized in B. Thymocytes and splenocytes from an untreated age-matched mouse were analyzed on the same day for Qa2 expression by GFP+CD62LhighTCRhigh SP thymocytes (Mature SP thymocytes) and GFPCD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells (Naive GFP peripheral T). CD24 expression levels could not be assessed on cells in the blood because of high background staining. Data are representative of at least five mice per condition in two independent experiments.

FIGURE 3.

RTEs require SLO access to mature. A, Diagram of experimental conditions. RAG2p-GFP Tg mice were untreated or splenectomized and treated every other day with anti-CD62L plus anti-VLA-4 for 4 days and analyzed on day 6. Other controls included eusplenic mice treated with both Abs and splenectomized mice treated with isotype control Ab. B and C, Representative Qa2 expression by GFP+CD44low/mid CD4 and CD8 T cells from the blood of splenectomized, anti-CD62L plus anti-VLA-4-treated mice (“Homeless” RTEs), anti-CD62L plus anti-VLA-4-treated euthymic mice (“No LN” RTEs), splenectomized, isotype control Ab-treated mice (“No Spl” RTEs), or untreated mice (Control RTEs). GFP levels of “homeless” and control RTEs were normalized in B. Thymocytes and splenocytes from an untreated age-matched mouse were analyzed on the same day for Qa2 expression by GFP+CD62LhighTCRhigh SP thymocytes (Mature SP thymocytes) and GFPCD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells (Naive GFP peripheral T). CD24 expression levels could not be assessed on cells in the blood because of high background staining. Data are representative of at least five mice per condition in two independent experiments.

Close modal

Deprivation of SLO access for 3 wk causes death of much of the naive T cell compartment due to lack of IL-7 and other cytokines (14). When RTEs were prevented from entering SLOs for 6 days, numbers of “homeless” blood naive T cells were increased relative to control blood naive T cells, with a specific increase in the RTE compartment (data not shown). Thus, 6-day deprivation of SLO access leaves the naive T cell compartment largely intact but does promote the survival of the younger RTE compartment relative to that of the older non-RTEs. We matched GFP levels to ensure that our phenotypic comparison of “homeless” and control RTEs was limited to cells that spent the same period of time in the periphery (Fig. 3 B).

Naive T cells scan for Ag presented by dendritic cells in SLOs, recirculating to another SLO if Ag is not found within 12–18 h (15). To test whether RTE maturation requires continuous recirculation in the lymphoid periphery, we compared the phenotype of RTEs that were “stuck” in SLOs for 6 days with that of control RTEs continually recirculating for 6 days (Fig. 4,A). Because AAL-R treatment blocks thymic egress, we thymectomized control mice at the onset of the experiment to age-match the RTEs in each group and thereby matched GFP levels of “stuck” and control RTEs. There was no statistically significant difference in the CD24 or Qa2 MFIs between “stuck” and control RTEs for either CD4 or CD8 T cells (p = 0.56 to 0.98, two-tailed Student’s t test with equal variance), indicating that continuous recirculation is not required for RTE maturation (Fig. 4 B). To assess RTEs that did not recirculate extensively before AAL-R treatment, we analyzed GFPhigh RTEs from both groups and again found comparable maturation (data not shown).

FIGURE 4.

RTE maturation does not require continuous recirculation. A, Diagram of experimental conditions. RAG2p-GFP Tg mice were treated daily for 6 days with AAL-R or AAL-S, and cells were analyzed on day 7. Control mice were thymectomized on day 0. B, CD24 and Qa2 expression by GFP+CD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells from AAL-R treated mice (“Stuck” RTEs) and AAL-S treated thymectomized mice (Control RTEs). Thymocytes and splenocytes from an untreated age-matched mouse were analyzed on the same day for CD24 and Qa2 expression by GFP+CD62LhighTCRhigh SP thymocytes (Mature SP thymocytes) and GFPCD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells (Naive GFP peripheral T). Data are representative of at least four mice per group from two independent experiments.

FIGURE 4.

RTE maturation does not require continuous recirculation. A, Diagram of experimental conditions. RAG2p-GFP Tg mice were treated daily for 6 days with AAL-R or AAL-S, and cells were analyzed on day 7. Control mice were thymectomized on day 0. B, CD24 and Qa2 expression by GFP+CD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells from AAL-R treated mice (“Stuck” RTEs) and AAL-S treated thymectomized mice (Control RTEs). Thymocytes and splenocytes from an untreated age-matched mouse were analyzed on the same day for CD24 and Qa2 expression by GFP+CD62LhighTCRhigh SP thymocytes (Mature SP thymocytes) and GFPCD44low/mid splenic CD4 and CD8 T cells (Naive GFP peripheral T). Data are representative of at least four mice per group from two independent experiments.

Close modal

Maturation is unimpaired in RTEs blocked from accessing either the spleen or LNs alone (Fig. 3,C) and in RTEs that access a given LN but are blocked from further recirculation (Fig. 4 B), suggesting that the factors driving RTE maturation are shared between all SLOs. CD8 RTEs have been shown to circulate to the gut within the first 24 h of thymic egress (16), but RTEs do not preferentially accumulate in the gut at 1–2 wk postegress (data not shown). Given that S1P mimetic treatment blocks gut homing of conventional T cells (17), our data also show that access to the unique environment of the gut is not required for RTE maturation.

In addition to phenotypic defects, stimulated “homeless” CD4 RTEs secrete less IL-2 (Fig. 5,A) and proliferate less relative to control RTEs (Fig. 5,B). A similar comparison of “homeless” CD8 RTEs and control non-RTEs was precluded due to small blood volumes and the low proportion of CD8 T cells among RTEs (1). “Homeless” and control CD4 non-RTEs secreted more IL-2 than did control RTEs (Fig. 5 A and data not shown), demonstrating that functional defects are limited to RTEs without access to SLOs. Thus, access to SLOs is important for RTEs to complete both phenotypic and functional maturation.

FIGURE 5.

RTEs require SLO access for functional maturation. A and B, “Homeless” or control CD4 RTEs (GFP+CD62Lhigh) and CD4 non-RTEs (GFPCD62Lhigh) were generated as in Fig. 3, sorted from the blood, and stimulated with anti-CD3 plus anti-CD28 in the presence of irradiated splenocytes. Sorted “homeless” and control RTEs had similar GFP MFIs. Following stimulation, IL-2 secretion at 24 h in A and cell proliferation at 48 h in B were quantified. Data are from blood pooled from 9–14 mice per condition, with 2–3 wells per stimulation condition. Error bars represent SD. ∗, p < 0.02 as compared with control RTEs, two-tailed Student’s t test with equal variance.

FIGURE 5.

RTEs require SLO access for functional maturation. A and B, “Homeless” or control CD4 RTEs (GFP+CD62Lhigh) and CD4 non-RTEs (GFPCD62Lhigh) were generated as in Fig. 3, sorted from the blood, and stimulated with anti-CD3 plus anti-CD28 in the presence of irradiated splenocytes. Sorted “homeless” and control RTEs had similar GFP MFIs. Following stimulation, IL-2 secretion at 24 h in A and cell proliferation at 48 h in B were quantified. Data are from blood pooled from 9–14 mice per condition, with 2–3 wells per stimulation condition. Error bars represent SD. ∗, p < 0.02 as compared with control RTEs, two-tailed Student’s t test with equal variance.

Close modal

What is the relationship between phenotypic and functional maturation? The increase in CD28 and IL-7Rα and the decrease in CD3 expression levels upon RTE maturation could modulate immunocompetence. Although CD24 has roles in both naive T cell homeostasis (18) and tolerance (19), less is known about the function in T cells of Qa2, a nonclassical class Ib MHC molecule, or CD45RB, an isoform of the CD45 glycoprotein phosphatase (20, 21). Our data do suggest that phenotypic and functional maturation go hand in hand, making phenotypic marker expression a reliable indicator of the overall maturation state of RTEs.

Peripheral maturation was not seen in a study of RTEs labeled 10 days previously by intrathymic CFSE injection (22). At best, this 10-day interim would reveal only subtle differences between these “aged” RTEs and non-RTEs (data not shown). Furthermore, while our analyses of RTEs marked by intrathymic FITC injection recapitulate our findings from the RAG2p-GFP system (data not shown), CFSE injection in our hands often labels some extrathymic T cells. RTEs can also be exclusively identified as CD24highQa2low peripheral T cells, although ∼85% of RTEs are excluded by this gating system (data not shown).

In conclusion, we show in this study that not only does T cell development continue after thymic egress, but that this process is dynamically regulated. While RTEs are adjusting to the lymphoid periphery, their immune competence is dampened for a period of 2–3 wk and they rely on signals received in SLOs to drive them to the full competence of the non-RTE subset, ready to defend against invading pathogens.

We thank M. Nussenzweig for RAG2p-GFP Tg mice, Novartis for AAL-R and AAL-S, and our University of Washington colleagues J. S. Hale for assistance with thymectomies, G. Priestley for splenectomy instruction, and M. Prlic for helpful discussion.

The authors have no financial conflict of interest.

The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked advertisement in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

1

This work was supported by grants from the Cancer Research Institute’s Predoctoral Emphasis Pathway in Tumor Immunology Program (to E.G.H.) and the German foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (to R.N.) and by National Institutes of Health Grants R21 AG 023781 and AI 064318 (to P.J.F.).

2

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

5

Abbreviations used in this paper: RTE, recent thymic emigrant; AAL-R, 2-amino-4-(4-heptyloxyphenyl)-2-methylbutanol; AAL-S, biologically inactive enantiomer of AAL-R; LN, lymph node; MFI, mean fluorescence intensity; SLO, secondary lymphoid organ; S1P, sphingosine 1-phosphate; S1P1, sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor 1; SP, single positive; Tg, transgenic; VLA-4, very late Ag 4.

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