This study identifies defects in the early stages of lymphopoiesis that may contribute to the abnormalities in the development and/or function of peripheral T and B lymphocytes in mice homozygous for the motheaten (me/me) and viable motheaten (mev/mev) mutations. The results indicate that in me/me and mev/mev mice prothymocytes in bone marrow are present in essentially normal numbers, as determined by intrathymic injection, but apparently lack the ability to home effectively to the thymus, as determined by intravenous transfer; early B lineage cells in bone marrow, identified by the B220 antigen, are markedly depleted, including immature B cells (sIg+), pre-B cells (cIg+, sIg-), and pro-B cells (B220+, cIg-, sIg-); TdT+ bone marrow cells, especially a subset that expresses the B220 B lineage antigen, are markedly depleted by two weeks of age; normal numbers of TdT+ thymocytes are present during the first 3 wk of postnatal life, but rapidly decrease thereafter. The results further indicate that neither the defective thymus homing capacity of prothymocytes nor the deficiency of TdT+ bone marrow cells is due to autoantibodies. The possible relationship of the defective development of lymphoid precursor cells to the premature onset of thymic involution and to the abnormalities of peripheral T and B lymphocytes in me/me and mev/mev mice is discussed; as are the results of in vitro studies (presented in a companion paper), which suggest that a primary defect in the stromal microenvironment of the bone marrow is responsible for the abnormal development of the lymphoid precursor cells.

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