The levels of serum thymic factor(s) (STF), of Thy-1.2 positivity of splenocytes [as measured by their azathioprine (AZ) sensitivity], and of Thy-1.2-positive “spontaneous” spleen rosette-forming cells (SSRFCs), as well as the presence of infectious virus in the thymus, were assessed as a function of time after virus inoculation in susceptible DBA/2, partially resistant BALB/c, and fully resistant C57BL/6 mice given the polycythemia- or anemiainducing strain of Friend leukemia virus (FLV-P and FLV-A, respectively). As early as Days 2 to 3, the levels of STF and of AZ sensitivity of splenocytes were profoundly decreased in DBA/2 mice, and, to a lesser extent, in BALB/c mice given FLV-P; however, SSRFCs/spleen were increased in both mouse strains. Conclusive evidence of infectious FLV-P was obtained in the thymuses of DBA/2 mice soon after infection. In mice of the same strains infected with FLV-A, STF levels were similarly decreased, but AZ sensitivity of splenocytes was unaffected, and SSRFCs were decreased. Evidence of early FLV-A infection in the thymus of DBA/2 mice was likewise obtained. In C57BL/6 mice given FLV-A, STF levels, AZ sensitivity of splenocytes, and SSRFC showed changes similar to, but of lower magnitude than, those in BALB/c mice. On the other hand, in C57BL/6 mice given FLV-P, the decrease in STF and AZ sensitivity was almost as pronounced as in susceptible DBA/2 mice in the face of complete absence of infectious virus or viral markers in the thymuses.

The observed changes are ascribed to virus infection in view of the following: (a) good temporal correlation between these changes and virus infection; (b) absence of and change in mice given heat-inactivated viruses or spleen homogenate of normal DBA/2 mouse spleen; (c) overall good correlation between mouse genotype and genetic (Fv-1 and Fv-2) restrictions of virus infection on one hand and the magnitude of the observed changes on the other. In particular, the decrease in STF and SSRFC levels is ascribed to the replication-competent (Friend-murine leukemia virus) component of Friend leukemia virus complex, whereas the decrease in AZ sensitivity of splenocytes and the increase of SSRFCs are ascribed to the defective spleen focus-forming virus component of the complex. All changes described so far were transient, since they were not detectable beyond 42 days after virus inoculation in overtly leukemic animals.

The observed derangements of thymus-derived immune functions may play an important cofactor role during the onset of leukemia in mice genetically permissive to Friend leukemia virus replication and transformation, but they do not seem relevant to the maintenance of leukemia.


Supported in part by grants from Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Rome, Italy (80.03456.65); and Progetto Finalizzato “Controllo della Crescita Neoplastica,” (81.01475.96 and 82.00406.96); and by funds of the Pasteur-Cenci Bolognetti Foundation.


This paper is dedicated to the memory of Gustavo Cudkowicz.

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