To study the occurrence of immunocompetent cells directly responsible for antibody production, cells from yolk sac, embryonic liver, bursa of Fabricius, bone marrow, spleen, or thymus were injected together with SRBC and Brucella abortus into 4-day old cyclophosphamide-treated chicks. A second stimulation was given 4 days later, and samples taken 4 days thereafter were used for antibody titrations.
During ontogeny, immunocompetent cells appeared in significant numbers first in the spleen for anti-SRBC responses, but in the bursa for anti-Brucella responses. Later these cells were also found in thymus and bone marrow. In the bursa, cells immunocompetent for anti-SRBC response were not encountered in significant numbers. The slight response to SRBC by transferred bursa cells reflects the presence of stem cells and their immediate descendents in the bursa at different stages of development.
These findings are compared with the development and maturation of the stem cell responsible for humoral immunity. In the bursa, development of the stem cell population precedes that of immunocompetent cells. The opposite relationship was found in bone marrow, spleen, and thymus where immunocompetent cells were always present some weeks before the appearance of cells capable of achieving a long-lasting reconstitution of bursa-dependent functions. These observations reveal that the bursa seeds out immunocompetent cells during its entire postembryonic development, but does not release the lymphoid stem cell population before this population has matured sufficiently and before the bursa itself, after fulfilling its function, starts to involute.