It is a longstanding question which bone marrow-derived cell seeds the thymus and to what level this cell is committed to the T-cell lineage. We sought to elucidate this issue by examining gene expression, lineage potential, and self-renewal capacity of the 2 most immature subsets in the human thymus, namely CD34+CD1a- and CD34+CD1a+ thymocytes. DNA microarrays revealed the presence of several myeloid and erythroid transcripts in CD34+CD1a- thymocytes but not in CD34+CD1a+ thymocytes. Lineage potential of both subpopulations was assessed using in vitro colony assays, bone marrow stroma cultures, and in vivo transplantation into nonobese diabetic/severe combined immunodeficient (NOD/SCID) mice. The CD34+CD1a- subset contained progenitors with lymphoid (both T and B), myeloid, and erythroid lineage potential. Remarkably, development of CD34+CD1a- thymocytes toward the T-cell lineage, as shown by T-cell receptor δ gene rearrangements, could be reversed into a myeloid-cell fate. In contrast, the CD34+CD1a+ cells yielded only T-cell progenitors, demonstrating their irreversible commitment to the T-cell lineage. Both CD34+CD1a- and CD34+CD1a+ thymocytes failed to repopulate NOD/SCID mice. We conclude that the human thymus is seeded by multipotent progenitors with a much broader lineage potential than previously assumed. These cells resemble hematopoietic stem cells but, by analogy with murine thymocytes, apparently lack sufficient self-renewal capacity.,
Department of Immunology

Weerkamp, F, Staal, F.J.T, Baert, M.R.M, Brugman, M.H, Dik, W.A, de Haas, E.F, … van Dongen, J.J.M. (2006). Human thymus contains multipotent progenitors with T/B lymphoid, myeloid, and erythroid lineage potential. Blood, 107(8), 3131–3137. doi:10.1182/blood-2005-08-3412