The sequential character of T-lymphocyte development as it pertains to the stage at which self-tolerance is acquired was investigated. Three phases were studied, defined here as prethymic, intrathymic, and postthymic as determined by the timing of thymus implantation. The model utilized was the temporal pattern of skin graft rejection in thymusless BALB/c nude mice implanted with allogeneic, C57BL/6J, or syngeneic thymuses before or after skin grafting; in some instances, F(1) hybrid spleen cells were also given to newborns or young adults. These experiments in nude mice showed that, (a) self-tolerance could be established despite the absence of the host's own haplotype in the implanted thymus; (b) recently emigrated postthymic cells could already discriminate self from non-self; (c) specific neonatal tolerance could be induced in nudes by inoculation of F(1) hybrid cells; (d) nudes showed a higher capacity for induction of neonatal tolerance than did normal littermates. These findings indicate that the process of self-tolerance in the T cell's lineage begins during the prethymic state early in ontogeny.

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