The bursa of Fabricius and the thymus are "central lymphoid organs" in the chicken, essential to the ontogenetic development of adaptive immunity in that species. Surgical removal of one or both of these organs in the newly hatched chicken, followed by sublethal X-irradiation the next day, has permitted recognition of two morphologically distinct cell systems in the "peripheral lymphoid tissues" of the spleen, gut, and other organs, and clear definition of the separate functions of each cell system.
The thymus-dependent development is represented morphologically by the small lymphocytes of the circulation and the white pulp type of development in the tissues. As in mammals, the thymus-dependent tissues of the chicken are basic to the ontogenesis of cellular immunity: graft versus host reactions, responses of delayed hypersensitivity and homograft rejection; and play a less clearly defined role in the antibody response to at least some antigens. Thymectomized-irradiated chickens are deficient in all these responses, and grow more slowly than any of the other experimental groups. In these animals germinal centers, plasma cells, and capacity for immunoglobulin synthesis remain intact.
The bursa-dependent development is represented morphologically by the larger lymphocytes of the germinal centers and the plasma cells, and functionally by the immunoglobulins. Bursectomized-irradiated chickens are agammaglobulinemic and unable to produce detectable antibody despite intense, repeated stimulation with bovine serum albumin and Brucella abortus organisms. The thymus-dependent development in these animals seems to be normal; they have adequate numbers of lymphocytes in the circulation and tissues, are able to reject skin homografts, though more slowly than usual, and to exercise graft versus host reactions. The short life span of these chickens has precluded adequate study of responses of delayed hypersensitivity.
There was no evidence of significant impairment of reticuloendothelial function in either the bursectomized-irradiated or the thymectomized-irradiated group, as judged by the clearance of colloidal gold and I131-tagged keyhole limpet hemocyanin.