Epithelial cells in the thymic medulla are conspicuous in normal adult mice, but sparse in the early fetal thymus and the thymus of adult T cell-deficient SCID mice. To examine whether growth of medullary epithelial cells (MEC) depends upon local contact with mature T cells, we used the finding that the SCID thymus is unusually permeable to mature T cells entering from the bloodstream. When SCID mice received multiple injections of mature lymph node T cells from birth, the thymus accumulated large numbers of mature TCR+ T cells of resting phenotype, but contained virtually no immature (CD4+8+) cells. The injected T cells localized in the medullary region of the thymus and led to marked regeneration of MEC. These and other data suggest that the growth of MEC is under the control of mature T cells. Placing MEC under T cell control might be a device for regulating the size and integrity of the medulla, especially during the phase of rapid thymic growth. Maintaining the cellular components of the medulla in proper balance could be critical for ensuring efficient self tolerance induction.

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