The origin of follicular dendritic cells (FDC) is unresolved, and as such, remains controversial. Based on the migration of Ag-transporting cells (ATC) into lymphoid follicles and the phenotypic similarity between FDC and ATC, one hypothesis is that ATC may represent emigrating FDC precursors. This contrasts with the view that FDC originate from local stromal cells in the secondary lymphoid tissues. Mice homozygous for the severe combined immunodeficiency (prkdc(scid)) mutation (scid) lack FDC. Thus, they provide a powerful tool for assessing de novo generation of FDC. To test whether FDC precursors could be found in bone marrow or fetal liver, scid/scid mice were reconstituted with either: 1) bone marrow cells from (BALB/c x C57BL/6)F1 donors, 2) bone marrow cells from ROSA BL/6 F1 (lacZ-transfected) mice, 3) rat bone marrow cells, or 4) rat fetal liver cells. Six to eight weeks after reconstitution with F1 bone marrow, cells reactive with the FDC-labeling mAb, FDC-M1, also expressed donor class I molecules on their surfaces. Similarly in mice reconstituted with lacZ-transfected bone marrow cells, these cells were also positive for the lacZ gene product. Furthermore, in spleens of animals reconstituted with either rat bone marrow or rat fetal liver, rat FDC were identified using the specifically labeling mAb, ED5. In all cases, host FDC were also present, indicating that scid/scid mice have FDC precursors that will mature in the presence of allogeneic or xenogeneic lymphoid cells. In summary, FDC can be derived from progenitor cells present in primary lymphoid tissues.