Lymphocytes of the mouse intestinal mucosa, identified in tissue sections or purified suspensions of intraepithelial lymphocytes as T cells (gut T lymphocytes [GTL]), were studied in normal mice or in beige mice (the equivalent of the Chediak-Higashi syndrome in man, characterized by giant granules in various cell types, including mast cells). Mice were studied in normal or in germ-free conditions, or during a graft versus host (GVH) reaction resulting from the injection of parental thymocytes into lethally irradiated F1 mice, a condition leading to massive accumulation of T lymphocytes of donor origin in the host gut mucosa. In normal as well as in GVH conditions, a high percentage of the gut IE lymphocytes contain granules (up to 80% in the beige mouse). These granules have ultrastructural, hostochemical and other features resembling those of mast cell granules; in beige mice, up to 50% of them can be shown to contain histamine. Granulated T cells are also found in the lamina propria. It appears that the GTL may progressively lose their surface T antigens when the granules become more developed. Kinetics of [3H]TdR labeling of the GTL, transfer experiments with T cells of various origins, selective [3H]TdR labeling and selective irradiation of the Peyer's patches (PP), and effect of thoraic duct (TD) drainage led to the conclusion that GTL are the progeny of T cells stimulated to divide in the PP microenvironment, which endows them with a gut-homing tendency. From the PP, these cells follow a cycle, migrating to the TD and to the blood to colonize the whole intestinal mucosa, the majority of them as dividing cells undergoing a single round of traffic, with some probably able to recirculate and becoming a more long-lived variety. Antigenic stimulation within the PP is necessary for the emergence of GTL progenitors, but their gut-homing property is unrelated to the antigen as shown with fetal gut grafts, notably in GVH where grafts syngeneic to the host or donor become similarly infiltrated by GTL. On the basis of their properties and of further evidence to be reported elsewhere, it is proposed that GTL belong to a special class of T lymphocytes, related to the immune defenses of the mucosal systems in general, and capable of acting as progenitors of mucosal mast cells.

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