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During embryonic development, T-lymphoid precursor cells colonize the thymus. Chemoattraction by the fetal thymus is thought to mediate T-precursor cell colonization. However, the molecules that attract T-precursor cells to the thymus remain unclear. By devising time-lapse visualization in culture, the present results show that alymphoid fetal thymus lobes attract T-precursor cells from fetal liver or fetal blood. CD4(-)CD8(-)CD25(-)CD44+ fetal thymocytes retained the activity to specifically re-enter the thymus. The attraction was predominantly due to I-A-expressing thymic epithelial cells and was mediated by pertussis toxin-sensitive G-protein signals. Among the chemokines produced by the fetal thymus, CCL21, CCL25, and CXCL12 could attract CD4(-)CD8(-)CD25(-)CD44+ fetal thymocytes. However, fetal thymus colonization was markedly diminished by neutralizing antibodies specific for CCL21 and CCL25, but not affected by anti-CXCL12 antibody. Fetal thymus colonization was partially defective in CCL21-deficient plt/plt mice and was further diminished by anti-CCL25 antibody. These results indicate that CCL21 is involved in the recruitment of T-cell precursors to the fetal thymus and suggest that the combination of CCL21 and CCL25 plays a major role in fetal thymus colonization.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





31 - 39


Animals, Antibodies, Cells, Cultured, Chemokine CCL21, Chemokine CXCL12, Chemokines, CC, Chemokines, CXC, Chemotaxis, Leukocyte, Fetal Blood, Fetus, Histocompatibility Antigens Class II, Liver, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Mice, Knockout, RNA, Messenger, Stem Cells, T-Lymphocytes, Thymus Gland, Time Factors