Differences in the structure of the interphase nucleus between two species of birds, the Japanese quail (Coturnix coturnix japonica) and the chick (Gallus gallus) has been used to distinguish cells from different origins in interspecies combinations. This biological cell marking technique was applied to thymus histogenesis. Using various combinations between components of quail and chick thymic rudiments, the respective contribution of endodermal epithelium, mesenchyme, and blood-borne extrinsic elements to the histogenesis of thymus was analyzed. It was demonstrated that the whole lymphoid population of the thymus is derived from immigrant blood-borne stem cells which are chemically attracted by the endoderm of the 3rd and 4th pharyngeal pouch. The latter is determined to differentiate into thymic epithelial reticulum as soon as the 15-somite stage, and is able to attract blood stem cells even when transplanted in an heterotopic position such as the ventral body wall of the embryo. It was shown that the thymic mesenchyme originates from the neural crest mesectoderm which colonizes early the 3rd and 4th branchial arches. It participates in the formation of perivascular mesenchyme, but does not give rise to lymphocytes. From heterospecific transplantations of quail thymuses into chick embryo (and inversely) at various stages of development is appeared that the thymic rudiment becomes attractive for lymphoid stem cells at a precise stage of its evolution for each species. The attractivity period lasts about 24 h for the quail and 36 h for the chick. Then, the inflow of stem cells becomes very low until the end of the incubation period. At this time, a second wave of lymphocytoblasts invades the thymus and the primitive embryonic lymphoid population is completely renewed around the hatching time. Competent thymic stem cells are present in the blood before and after the period of physiological thymic attractivity. The identity of basophilic cells appearing in the thymus during its histogenesis and lymphoid stem cells has been demonstrated from the analysis of quail-chick chimeric thymuses.

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