Cell surface markers of mouse thymic dendritic cells have been studied by flow cytometry after isolation by collagenase digestion, separation of the low-density cell fraction and differential adherence. The dendritic cell preparation had a purity of > 90%, the contaminating population being essentially composed of thymocytes, macrophages constituting <1%. Dendritic cells displayed high forward and low-intermediate side angle scatter, and expressed high levels of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I and class II molecules, the heat-stable antigen (HSA), the adhesion molecules Pgp-1 (CD44), LFA-1, ICAM-1 and low levels of Mac-1 and the leukocyte common antigen CD45. Thymic dendritic cells are negative for the stem cell antigen-2 (Sca-2), the B cell-specific form of CD45 (B220), the mouse macrophage markers Fc receptor and F4/80, and the granulocyte marker Gr-1. However, although they do not express the T cell markers Thy-1, CD2, CD3, CD4 and CD5, 20%–30% of dendritic cells are positive for the interleukin 2 receptor α chain (CD25), and about 30% express intermediate levels of CD8.
These results are discussed with regard to the functional significance of the expression of CD8 by thymic dendritic cells, and the existence of different dendritic cell subpopulations in the murine thymus.