Extrathymic sites of T cell production

Since the number of mature T cells in the secondary lymphoid organs remains high throughout life, it is often argued that maintenance of the T cell pool after the stage of thymic atrophy reflects de novo production of T cells in other organs, e.g. the gut, liver and bone marrow. Although some degree of T cell differentiation can occur in these organs, there is currently no clear evidence that such differentiation contributes to the formation of the typical a(3 T cells found in the blood, spleen and lymph nodes. The most likely explanation for the maintenance of the T cell pool size into old age is that T cells are intrinsically long lived. The thymus is vital for the initial formation of the T cell pool, but once the pool reaches its maximal size in young adult life generation of new T cells by the thymus becomes relatively unimportant. By puberty the thymus is largely redundant and atrophy ensues.

See also: Apoptosis; Thymic epithelium: potential role in regulatory T cell tolerance; T cell receptor, aP; Thymic hormones and peptides; T lymphocyte differentiation.

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