We have established in culture 13 clones from the thymus of a 14-d B10.BR mouse embryo and characterized 8 of them. All eight FT clones have the TCR-gamma and -beta genes in germline configuration. They express mRNA for the gamma, but not for the beta nor the alpha genes. All eight FT clones are Thy-1+, Ly-1+, LFA-1+, Pgp-1+, H-2K+, and T3-. Three phenotypes could be distinguished on the basis of Lyt-2, L3T4, and IL-2-R expression: Lyt-2+, L3T4-, IL-2-R+ (I); Lyt-2+, L3T4-, IL-2-R- (II); and Lyt-2+, L3T4+, IL-2-R+ (III) cells. All eight clones grow in rIL-4 and six clones also proliferate in rIL-2. Antibodies specific for IL-2-R inhibit their response to rIL-2 but not to rIL-4. The eight FT clones synthesize mRNA for IL-4 after stimulation in vitro and none of them exhibit cytolytic activity or helper function for B lymphocytes. We conclude that the FT clones are at a very early stage of T cell development, that the expression of Lyt-2 and L3T4 surface molecules can precede that of the antigen receptor, and that the same fetal thymocyte can use both IL-4 and IL-2 as growth factor.

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