To seek information on the potential lifespan of normal B and T lymphocytes, lymph node (LN) cells from unprimed mice were transferred to H-2-identical severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) hosts. At a population level, the donor B and T cells survived for at least 10 mo post-transfer with no reduction in their numbers. In terms of antibody production, LN-injected SCID mice remained responsive to several different antigens and contained unprimed precursors of memory cells for greater than or equal to 6 mo post-transfer. Most of the B and T cells recovered from LN-injected SCID mice expressed the typical virgin phenotype of mature lymphocytes from young mice. These findings suggest that many of the transferred lymphocytes might have remained in interphase as virgin cells from the time of injection. This did not apply to all of the transferred cells, however, because 20-40% of CD4+ cells from long-term SCID hosts displayed a memory phenotype, 7% incorporated 2-bromodeoxyuridine over 5 d, and total numbers of B and T cells increased gradually (twofold) over a 10-mo period. Collectively, the data favor the view that the pool of mature B and T cells in adult mice is largely self sufficient: some of the cells proliferate, presumably in response to environmental antigens, but many mature cells can remain quiescent for prolonged periods. Input of new cells from the primary lymphoid organs continues, but at a much reduced rate relative to young life.

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