Mapping precursor movement through the postnatal thymus reveals specific microenvironments supporting defined stages of early lymphoid development

Evan F. Lind, Susan E. Prockop, Helen E. Porritt, Howard T. Petrie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

276 Scopus citations


Cellular differentiation is a complex process involving integrated signals for lineage specification, proliferation, endowment of functional capacity, and survival or cell death. During embryogenesis, spatially discrete environments regulating these processes are established during the growth of tissue mass, a process that also results in temporal separation of developmental events. In tissues that undergo steady-state postnatal differentiation, another means for inducing spatial and temporal separation of developmental cues must be established. Here we show that in the postnatal thymus, this is achieved by inducing blood-borne precursors to enter the organ in a narrow region of the perimedullary cortex, followed by outward migration across the cortex before accumulation in the subcapsular zone. Notably, blood precursors do not transmigrate the cortex in an undifferentiated state, but rather undergo progressive developmental changes during this process, such that defined precursor stages appear in distinct cortical regions. Identification of these cortical regions, together with existing knowledge regarding the genetic potential of the corresponding lymphoid precursors, sets operational boundaries for stromal environments that are likely to induce these differentiative events. We conclude that active cell migration between morphologically similar but functionally distinct stromal regions is an integral component regulating differentiation and homeostasis in the steady-state thymus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-134
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 16 2001



  • Cell differentiation
  • Cell movement
  • Histology
  • Stromal cells
  • Thymus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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