Young adult rat thymus and lymph node cell subpopulations were obtained by differential flotation on discontinuous BSA density gradients and assayed for properties characteristic of mature thymus-derived lymphocytes. One such subpopulation (C) of thymocytes was enriched in its ability to respond mitotically to a hemiallogeneic MLR stimulus, to localize in the parenchyma of lymph nodes and spleen, and to initiate a GVH reaction in a suitable host. These cells did not respond well to mitotic stimulation by PHA, they were lighter in density than the majority of mature lymph node thymus-derived lymphocytes, and they possessed a thymus-specific antigen (RTA) not present on peripheral lymphoid cells. We conclude that the acquisition of peripheral properties occurs sequentially, during an intrathymic differentiation cycle or shortly after the cells leave the thymus.

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