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N Engl J Med. 1999 Oct 14;341(16):1180-9.

Transplantation of thymus tissue in complete DiGeorge syndrome.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.



The DiGeorge syndrome is a congenital disorder that affects the heart, parathyroid glands, and thymus. In complete DiGeorge syndrome, patients have severely reduced T-cell function.


We treated five infants (age, one to four months) with complete DiGeorge syndrome by transplantation of cultured postnatal thymus tissue. Follow-up evaluations included immune phenotyping and proliferative studies of peripheral-blood mononuclear cells plus biopsy of the thymus allograft. Thymic production of new T cells was assessed in peripheral blood by tests for T-cell-receptor recombination excision circles, which are formed from excised DNA during the rearrangement of T-cell-receptor genes.


After the transplantation of thymus tissue, T-cell proliferative responses to mitogens developed in four of the five patients. Two of the patients survived with restoration of immune function; three patients died from infection or abnormalities unrelated to transplantation. Biopsies of grafted thymus in the surviving patients showed normal morphologic features and active T-cell production. In three patients, donor T cells could be detected about four weeks after transplantation, although there was no evidence of graft-versus-host disease on biopsy or at autopsy. In one patient, the T-cell development within the graft was demonstrated to accompany the appearance of recently developed T cells in the periphery and coincided with the onset of normal T-cell function. In one patient, there was evidence of thymus function and CD45RA+CD62L+ T cells more than five years after transplantation.


In some infants with profound immunodeficiency and complete DiGeorge syndrome, the transplantation of thymus tissue can restore normal immune function. Early thymus transplantation - before the development of infectious complications - may promote successful immune reconstitution.

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