On the basis of their surface markers, T lymphocytes are divided into subsets of "naive" and "memory cells". We have defined the interrelationship and relative life spans of naive and memory T cells by examining the surface markers on murine T cells incorporating bromodeoxyuridine, a DNA precursor, given in the drinking water. Three findings are reported. First, using a new method we show that the release of newly formed naive T cells from the unmanipulated thymus is very low (confirming the findings of others with surgical approaches). Second, in thymectomized mice, T cells with a naive phenotype remain in interphase for prolonged periods; however, some of these cells divide and retain (or regain) their "naive" markers. Third, most T cells with a memory phenotype divide rapidly, but others remain in interphase for many weeks. Collectively, the data indicate that long-lived T cells have multiple phenotypes and contain a mixture of memory cells, naive (virgin) cells, and memory cells masquerading as naive cells.

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