Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 207, Issue 2, pp 287–306 | Cite as

Ontogeny and organization of the stationary non-lymphoid cells in the human thymus

  • Brita von Gaudecker
  • Hans Konrad M üller-Hermelink


Ontogenetic differentiation of the human thymus was investigated in 50 embryos by means of light and electron microscopic methods in an attempt to clarify the morphogenesis of the complicated microecology of thymic tissue. At the 8th gestational week (g.w.), the primordium of the thymus contains almost exclusively undifferentiated epithelial cells. At the 10th g.w., the epithelial cells in the central part are spindle-shaped. During the subsequent weeks the cortical region of the thymus becomes separated into lobes by mesenchymal septa containing hemopoietic precursor cells and large electronlucent cells with irregularly shaped nuclei. The latter cells are also found in the deeper presumptive medullary regions of the thymus; they differentiate into interdigitating reticulum cells (IDC). The permeation of the medulla of the thymus by non-epithelial IDC occurs concurrently with the formation of cortical and medullary epithelial cells. Between the 12th and 14th g.w. the cortical and medullary differentiation is completed. At this time-stage cortical small lymphocytes differ in morphological shape from medullary lymphocytes, the latter acquiring the appearance of immunocompetent T cells and establishing intimate contact with the IDC.

These findings indicate that the thymic cortex and medulla contain different epithelial cells. In addition, the thymic medulla displays cells characterized by the morphology of typical interdigitating reticulum cells of peripheral lymphoid tissue. The structural pattern of the thymus is correlated to morphologically differing lymphoid cell populations in the cortical and medullary regions.

Key words

Fetal human thymus Epithelial cells Development and differentiation Mesenchymal reticulum cells T lymphocytes Electron microscopy 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brita von Gaudecker
    • 1
  • Hans Konrad M üller-Hermelink
    • 1
  1. 1.Anatomisches Institut der Universität KielKielFederal Republic of Germany

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