T cells leave the thymus at a specific time during differentiation and do not return despite elaboration of known T cell chemoattractants by thymic stroma. We observed differentiation stage–restricted egress of thymocytes from an artificial thymus in which vascular structures or hemodynamics could not have been playing a role. Hypothesizing that active movement of cells away from a thymic product may be responsible, we demonstrated selective reduction in emigration from primary thymus by inhibitors of active movement down a concentration gradient (chemofugetaxis). Immature intrathymic precursors were insensitive to an emigration signal, whereas mature thymocytes and peripheral blood T cells were sensitive. Thymic stroma was noted to elaborate at least two proteins capable of inducing emigration, one of which was stromal cell–derived factor-1. Thymic emigration is mediated, at least in part, by specific fugetaxis-inducing factors to which only mature cells respond.
Mark C. Poznansky, Ivona T. Olszak, Richard H. Evans, Zhengyu Wang, Russell B. Foxall, Douglas P. Olson, Kathryn Weibrecht, Andrew D. Luster, David T. Scadden