Virchows Archiv A

, Volume 412, Issue 5, pp 431–442 | Cite as

Intra- and extrathymic B cells in physiologic and pathologic conditions

Immunohistochemical study on normal thymus and lymphofollicular hyperplasia of the thymus
  • Walter J. Hofmann
  • Frank Momburg
  • Peter Möller
  • Herwart F. Otto


Normal thymuses and thymuses with lymphofollicular hyperplasia have been examined immunohistologically using immunoenzymatic single and double labelling methods and a panel of monoclonal antibodies against B lymphocyte differentiation antigens (CD19-, CD20-, CD21-, CD22-, CD23- and CD37ag) and human immunoglobulins (IgM, IgD) for the presence and localisation of B lymphocytes and cells expressing B cell differentiation antigens. The numerous hyperplastic lymph follicles which occur in the pathological condition of lymphofollicular hyperplasia of the thymus were found to originate in the extrathymic compartment of the interlobular septal space. This area was found to be blown up by the growing lymph follicles with exactly the same cellular composition as their counterparts in the peripheral lymphatic tissue. Some of the B lymphocytes expressing the immunophenotype of follicular mantle zone lymphocytes which were detected in the thymic medulla probably infiltrated through discontinuities of the border between the perivascular space and the thymic medulla. Apart from this primarily extrathymic B cell compartment, B lymphocytes and cells expressing B cell antigens were found within the thymus medulla of normal control thymuses of different ages from fetal to adult life. These cells were detected as a small subpopulation in normal fetal, juvenile and adult thymuses. Morphologically they could be subdivided into small, round lymphoid cells accounting for less than 1% of medullary lymphoid cells, and into a larger variant, asteroidally shaped because of short cytoplasmic processes. These asteroid cells were even more infrequent than the lymphoid variant. Immunophenotype (CD19ag+, CD20ag+, CD22ag+, CD37ag+, IgM+, IgD+) and morphology of the first cell type led to the conclusion that the lymphoid cells were in fact B lymphocytes. They were scattered throughout the medulla of fetal and juvenile and adult thymuses alike. The second, the asteroid cell type, constantly expressed CD20ag and inconstantly IgM, CD22ag and CD37ag; furthermore, CD23ag was detected in a subset of the asteroid cells either restricted to the perinuclear zone or expressed in the entire cytoplasma and on the plasma membrane. The asteroid cells were located in the corticomedullary region of the fetal thymuses but were randomly distributed with a tendency to Hassall's corpuscles in juvenile and adult thymuses. They often formed rosettes with non-B lymphocytes. It can be concluded that a small number of B cells and asteroid cells of still uncertain origin, but expressing B cell antigens, are constitutive elements of the fetal and adult thymic medulla. It can be assumed that the asteroid cell might represent a novel type of thymic accessory cell and that the rosetting of non-B lymphocytes around this asteroid cell might simulate or in fact be the earliest B cell interaction of maturing T cells.

Key words

Thymus Lymphofollicular hyperplasia B lymphocytes 



monoclonal antibody(-ies)


antigen defined by the mAb cluster xx


mAb of the cluster xx


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter J. Hofmann
    • 1
  • Frank Momburg
    • 1
  • Peter Möller
    • 1
  • Herwart F. Otto
    • 1
  1. 1.Pathologisches Institut der Universität HeidelbergHeidelbergFRG

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