T lymphocytes generated in the fetal and neonatal period are characterized by T cell receptor (TCR) gene rearrangements that lack N region nucleotides (fetal-type TCR). Using fetal-type TCR as a lineage marker, we show that such T cells are long-lived and persist in the periphery of adult mice. Moreover, in both neonatal and adult environments, upon encounter with self-antigens, they are less likely to be deleted. Inefficient clonal deletion could be due to the intrinsic properties of the T cells generated during this period, or to yet unknown properties of the perinatal thymus. Such anergic T cells constitute a subset that can further expand in vivo in an antigen-independent fashion, leaving open the possibility for self-aggression under the appropriate triggering conditions.

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