Expression of interleukin-2 receptors as a differentiation marker on intrathymic stem cells

Nature. 1985 Mar 7-13;314(6006):98-100. doi: 10.1038/314098a0.


The thymus is regarded as the primary site for T-cell lymphopoiesis, but very little is known about the lineage inter-relationships of cells within that organ. At least four subpopulations of mouse thymocytes can be defined on the basis of staining with monoclonal antibodies directed against the T-cell differentiation antigens Lyt-2 and L3T4 (ref. 2). Thus immunocompetent (medullary) thymocytes, like peripheral T cells, express either Lyt-2 (cytotoxic phenotype) or L3T4 (helper phenotype) but not both, whereas non-functional (cortical) thymocytes express both markers. In addition, a small subpopulation comprising 2-3% of cells in the thymus and expressing neither Lyt-2 nor L3T4 has recently been described. The latter cells have the properties of intrathymic 'stem cells' in that they are the first to appear in the embryonic thymus and at least some can be shown to give rise, both in vivo (ref. 4. and our unpublished data) and in vitro, to other thymocyte subpopulations. We show here that 50% of Lyt-2-/L3T4- cells in the adult thymus express receptors for the polypeptide growth hormone interleukin-2 (IL-2) whereas other cells in the thymus do not. Furthermore, immunohistochemical localization studies on frozen sections indicate a disperse distribution of IL-2 receptor-positive cells in both the cortex and medulla. These novel findings have potential implications in the context of current models of differentiation pathways within the thymus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antigens, Ly / analysis
  • Antigens, Surface / analysis
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / cytology
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Receptors, Immunologic / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Interleukin-2
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Thymus Gland / cytology*
  • Thymus Gland / embryology
  • Thymus Gland / metabolism


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antigens, Ly
  • Antigens, Surface
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • Receptors, Interleukin-2