The thymic stromal network is complex and heterogeneous, containing thymic epithelial cells which are thought to play an important role during T-cell development and thymic fibroblasts which role is less defined. We herein present a phenotypic and functional comparison between defined thymic stromal cell populations. We transfected SV40 ori- into fetal and postnatal thymic stromal cell cultures and obtained SV40-immortalized clones of epithelial and fibroblastic nature as demonstrated by expression of intracellular keratin. These various clones were characterized in detail and compared to their untransfected bulk culture counterparts for phenotype, cytokine gene expression and cytokine production. All the different thymic stromal cells examined, constitutively expressed ICAM-1, LFA-3, MHC class I antigens, CD44, and the genes coding for IL-7, SCF and TGF-beta, but not TNF-alpha. After IL-1 stimulation, epithelial cells seemed to produce more GM-CSF than fibroblasts, and that trend was also seen for IL-6 secretion. SV40 cells were also regulated by IFN-gamma which induced MHC class II antigens and inhibited the IL-1 induced GM-CSF production. SV40 cells differed from their untransfected counterparts by an atypical expression of CD40 and lacked constitutive IL-1 alpha gene expression. We isolated clones with distinct properties, 24SV48, a highly proliferative CD34 positive TEC secreting low levels of GM-CSF and lacking constitutive IL-1 alpha and beta gene expression, and CT1SV93, an epithelial clone of postnatal origin with a high IL-1-induced cytokine production. In spite of differences with untransfected bulk cultures, the various SV40 immortalized clones may represent useful tools to further study the human thymic stroma.