Using a system of bone marrow (BM) hematopoietic repopulation of irradiated euthymic and athymic mice, we have examined the early stages of extrathymic T-cell development within the murine small intestine epithelium. During a period of active extrathymic T-cell development, two distinct populations of intraepithelial lymphocytes (IEL) were present. One consisted of CD3+ lymphocytes with phenotypic properties of mature IEL. The other population consisted of a transient IEL subset that increased in abundance between days 5 and 14 post-BM transfer, and then declined. The majority of transient IEL in both types of mice expressed the heat-stable antigen, of which some cells coexpressed CD3 but were void of other markers common to mature T cells. Studies using freshly extracted IEL from normal nonirradiated mice found that approximately 3% to 5% of the IEL had phenotypic properties similar to the transient IEL observed during repopulation of radiation chimeras, indicating that such IEL are present within the gut epithelium of normal, nonirradiated mice. Identification of this IEL subset should greatly facilitate studies of extrathymic IEL development.

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