Flow cytometric and immunocytochemical analyses of murine fetal thymus (FT) cells with antibodies to various surface markers and transcription factors reveal that the synthesis of TCF-1 and GATA-3 protein begins simultaneously in a fraction of the most immature population of FT cells, which have the phenotype of CD4-CD8-CD44+CD25-. No TCF-1-producing cells is found in the fetal liver (FL). In CD44+CD25- FT cells, the production of TCF-1 is immediately followed by intracellular expression of CD3 epsilon. It is also found that the T cell development from FL, but not FT, progenitors in the FT organ culture system is severely inhibited by the addition of antisense oligonucleotides for either TCF-1 or GATA-3. These results strongly suggest that TCF-1 and GATA-3 play essential roles in the initiation of the earliest steps of T cell development in the thymus.

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