The effect of irradiation on the supportive role of the thymic stroma in T cell differentiation was investigated in a transplantation model using athymic nude mice and transplanted irradiated thymuses. In this model, neonatal CBA/H mice were exposed to graded doses of whole-body irradiation with fast fission neutrons of 1 MeV mean energy or 300 kVp X rays. The doses used varied from 2.75 up to 6.88 Gy fission neutrons and from 6.00 up to 15.00 Gy X rays at center-line dose rates of 0.10 and 0.30 Gy/min, respectively. Subsequently, the thymus was excised and a thymus lobe was transplanted under the kidney capsule of H-2 compatible nude mice. One and two months after transplantation, the T cell composition of the thymic transplant was investigated using immunohistology with monoclonal antibodies directed to the cell surface differentiation antigens Thy-1, Lyt-1, Lyt-2, MT-4, and T-200. Furthermore, the stromal cell composition of the thymic transplant was investigated with monoclonal antibodies directed to MHC antigens and with monoclonal antibodies defining different subsets of thymic stromal cells. To investigate the reconstitution capacity of the thymic transplant, the peripheral T cell number was measured using flow cytofluorometric analysis of nude spleen cells with the monoclonal antibodies anti-Thy-1, anti-Lyt-2, and anti-MT-4. The results of this investigation show that a neonatal thymus grafted in a nude mouse has a similar stromal and T cell composition as that of a normal thymus in situ. In addition, grafting of such a thymus results in a significant increase of the peripheral T cell number. Irradiation of the graft prior to transplantation has no effects on the stromal and T cell composition but the graft size decreases. This reduction of size shows a linear dose-response curve after neutron irradiation. The X-ray curve is linear for doses in excess of 6.00 Gy. The RBE for fission neutrons for the reduction of the relative thymic graft size to 10% was equal to 2.1. Furthermore, the peripheral T cell number decreases with increasing doses of irradiation given to the graft prior to transplantation. The present data indicate that the regenerative potential of thymic stromal cells is radiosensitive and is characterized by D0 values equal to 2.45 and 3.68 Gy for neutrons and X rays, respectively. In contrast, the ability of the thymic stromal cells to support T cell maturation is highly radioresistant.

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