The search for human hematopoietic stem cells has been hampered by the lack of appropriate assay systems. Demonstration of the ability of precursor cell candidates to give rise to T cells is of significant difficulty since dissociated in vitro cultured thymus stroma cells lose their ability to sustain thymocyte maturation. To define further the differentiative capacities of the rare human fetal liver and bone marrow cells that express the CD34 surface antigen and exhibit in vitro myeloid and pre-B cell activities, we have microinjected them into HLA-mismatched fetal thymus fragments, partially depleted of hematopoietic cells by low temperature culture. In vitro colonized thymuses have then been allowed to develop upon engraftment into immunodeficient SCID mice. Using this modification of the SCID-hu system, we show that low numbers of fetal CD34+ progenitor cells can repopulate the lymphoid compartment in the human thymus.

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