T cell progenitors in the adult thymus (AT) are not well characterized. In the present study, we show that the earliest progenitors in the murine AT are, like those in fetal thymus (FT), unable to generate B or myeloid cells, but still retain the ability to generate NK cells and dendritic cells. However, AT progenitors are distinct from those in FT or fetal liver, in that they are able to produce ∼100 times larger numbers of T cells than progenitors in fetuses. Such a capability to generate a large number of T cells was mainly attributed to their potential to extensively proliferate before the TCRβ chain gene rearrangement. We propose that the AT is colonized by T/NK/dendritic cell tripotential progenitors with much higher potential to form diversity in TCRβ chains than FT progenitors.
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