Stromal Cells

Richard L Boyd, Department of Pathology and Immunology, Monash Medical School, Prahran, Victoria, Australia

Copyright © 1998 Elsevier Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

One of the distinguishing features of lymphoid development is that it involves blood-borne multipotential precursor cells seeding to a selective site where their differentiation to phenotypically and functionally distinct mature cells is induced. This is regulated by a population of sessile cells, collectively termed stromal cells, which form an interconnected network providing not only the structural integrity of the organ but also the specific inductive microenvironment responsible for the differentiation and maturation of the incoming precursor cells. As distinct from hemopoiesis, the complete spectrum of lymphocyte development, particularly that of T cells, cannot be induced by a combination of cytokines -cellrcell plasma interactions are a critical requirement. Identification of the non-MHC (major histocompatibility complex) surface molecules involved in this is a central focus of research into the lymphoid microenvironments. Given that there are as many as 8-10 steps in T and B cell development lineages, each definable by a combination of surface molecules rather than single stage-specific markers, a logical prediction would be that the stromal cells controlling these pathways are equally complex. Despite the wide acceptance of the term 'stromal cells', historically based on the lack of histologically distinct features between these cells, more sophisticated pheno-typic analyses now make it clear the stromal cells and their organization are equally as complex as the cells whose development they regulate. The thymus as the primary lymphoid organ for T cell genesis is the best studied for stromal cells, its composition and structure serving as a valuable model for other tissues (Figure 1).

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