We found that c-kit-positive, lineage marker-negative, Thy-1lo cells are present in both bone marrow and thymus ("BM c-kit" and "thymus c-kit" cells). Although the two cell types are phenotypically similar, only BM c-kit cells showed the potential to form colonies in vitro as well as in vivo. However, both of them revealed extensive growth and differentiation potential to T cells after direct transfer into an irradiated adult thymus, or a deoxyguanosine-treated fetal thymus. Time course analysis showed that thymus c-kit cells differentiated into CD4CD8 double-positive cells approximately 4 d earlier than BM c-kit cells did. In addition, anti-c-kit antibody blocked T cell generation of BM c-kit cells but not of thymus c-kit cells. Intravenous injection of thymus c-kit resulted in the generation of not only T cells, but B as well as NK1.1+ cells. These data provide evidence that thymus c-kit cells represent common lymphoid progenitors with the differentiation potential to T, B, and possibly NK cells. The c-kit-mediated signaling appears to be essential in the transition from BM c-kit to thymus c-kit cells.

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