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Blood. 2011 Jul 21;118(3):627-34. doi: 10.1182/blood-2011-03-341396. Epub 2011 May 31.

Long-term restoration of the human T-cell compartment after thymectomy during infancy: a role for thymic regeneration?

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  • 1Department of Immunology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Thymectomy during early childhood is generally thought to have serious consequences for the establishment of the T-cell compartment. In the present study, we investigated the composition of the T-cell pool in the first 3 decades after thymectomy during infancy due to cardiac surgery. In the first 5 years after thymectomy, naive and total CD4(+) and CD8(+) T-cell numbers in the blood and T-cell receptor excision circle (TREC) levels in CD4(+) T cells were significantly lower than in healthy age-matched controls. In the first years after thymectomy, plasma IL-7 levels were significantly elevated and peripheral T-cell proliferation levels were increased by ∼ 2-fold. From 5 years after thymectomy onward, naive CD4(+) and CD8(+) T-cell counts and TRECs were within the normal range. Because TREC levels are expected to decline continuously in the absence of thymic output, we investigated whether normalization of the naive T-cell pool could be due to regeneration of thymic tissue. In the majority of individuals who had been thymectomized during infancy, thymic tissue could indeed be identified on magnetic resonance imaging scans. Whereas thymectomy has severe effects on the establishment of the naive T-cell compartment during early childhood, our data suggest that functional regrowth of thymic tissue can limit its effects in subsequent years.

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