Scanning Microscopy


The three-dimensional architecture of the thymus and mesenteric lymph node reveals several different stromal cell types important in the development and function of T cells. In the thymic cortex, T cells proliferate and differentiate in a meshwork of epithelial-reticular cells. They then migrate towards the medulla where they may interact with interdigitating cells. T cells migrate from the thymus through perivascular spaces, surrounding large vessels at the cortico-medullary boundary. In this area also large thymic cystic cavities are found, their function remains at present unclear. Mature "selected" T cells leave the thymus most probably by the venous bloodstream, to enter peripheral lymph nodes.

Upon entering the lymph node they cross the wall of high endothelial venules. On the other hand, lymph enters the node by afferent lymphatics draining into various types of sinuses. Here, macrophages are strategically located to phagocytose and process antigen. These cells then expose antigen to T cells and B cells within the lymph node parenchyma, thus creating a microenvironment for the onset of an immune response.

The various microenvironments important in T cell development and T cell function are shown in this paper using scanning electron microscopy as a dissecting tool. We discuss our morphological findings in the light of recent data on the physiology of T cell differentiation and function.

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