A primary xenogeneic culture system has been devised that selectively generates undifferentiated TdT+ lymphoblasts from rat bone marrow under conditions that do not support the growth or maintenance of rat colony-forming unit-spleen (CFU-S) or granulocyte/macrophage colony-forming cells (GM-CFC). The culture system requires a mouse bone marrow feeder layer, and a serum supplement that has markedly reduced levels of cortisol. The growth of TdT+ cells can be significantly enhanced by the addition of mesodermalizing factors (e.g., fibroblast growth factor, guinea pig bone marrow extract) to the culture medium, and the serum supplement can be decreased by the addition of selenium, transferrin, and T3. The cultured TdT+ cells are antigenically "null" cells that further resemble their normal counterparts in bone marrow with respect to morphology, size, cortisone sensitivity, and pattern of TdT fluorescence. The TdT+ cells are generated with equal facility from bone marrow of normal and congenitally athymic rats, can be maintained in logarithmic growth for at least 10 mos by serial passage in vitro, and do not cause leukemia when infused into irradiated recipients. Although the lineage relationships of these immature lymphoid cells have not yet been established, our working hypothesis, based on preliminary evidence, is that the cultured TdT+ cells are primitive members of the T cell series.

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