Mouse thymocytes were cultured for short periods of time either alone or with one of two supporting cell populations, splenic adherent cells or thymic epithelial cells. The thymus-derived (T) cell activity of thymocytes cultured on supporting cell populations increased dramatically during 2 days of culture, as assayed in the mixed lymphocyte interaction (MLI), response to phytomitogens, and helper cell activity in the in vitro antibody response. The level of activity attained was equal to that of spleen and lymph node lymphocytes and greater than that of steroid-resistant thymocytes. The cultured thymocytes had surface antigens characteristic of mature T lymphocytes with regard to θ and H-2. The appearance of functionally active lymphocytes in vitro depended upon cell division. Most of the active cultured cells arose from cells already undergoing maturation, i.e., from cells with reduced θ determinants and increased H-2 determinants. We therefore have generated a population of thymocytes indistinguishable from peripheral T lymphocytes using simple in vitro techniques. The extent to which the production of these active lymphocytes depends upon in vitro differentiation is discussed.

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