To gain insight into the clonal organization of lymphoid organs, we studied the distribution in situ of donor-derived cells in near-physiological chimeras. We introduced RT7b fetal liver cells into nonirradiated congenic RT7a neonatal rats. The chimerism 6-20 wk after injection ranged from 0.3 to 20%. The numbers of cell clones simultaneously contributing to cell generation in a particular histological feature were deduced from the variance in donor cell distribution. In bone marrow and thymus, donor-derived lymphoid cells were found scattered among host cells, indicating a high mobility of cells. In bone marrow, donor cells were evenly distributed over the entire marrow, even at low chimerism. This indicates that leukopoiesis is maintained by the proliferation of many clones. In the thymus, the various lobules showed different quantities of donor-derived lymphoid cells. Mathematical analysis of these differences indicated that 17-18 cell division cycles occur in the cortex. In spleen, the distribution of donor-derived cells over the germinal centers indicated that 5 d after antigenic stimulation, germinal centers develop oligoclonally. The main conclusions of this work are that (a) bone marrow and thymus are highly polyclonal; (b) 17-18 divisions occur between prothymocyte and mature T cell; and (c) lymphoid cells disperse rapidly while proliferating and differentiating.

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