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Hum Pathol. 2000 Sep;31(9):1121-8.

Acute thymic involution in fetuses and neonates with chorioamnionitis.

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Institute of Pathology, University of Siena, Italy.


Chorioamnionitis represents the leading cause of preterm birth and related pathologic conditions as well as of fetal death and frequently occurs in symptom-free mothers. Recent radiologic findings have indicated that thymus size is significantly reduced in preterm infants born to mothers with subclinical, histologically proven chorioamnionitis. However, an accurate morphologic description of the thymus gland in fetuses and neonates with chorioamnionitis is lacking, although it is known that infection and other stress processes may cause lymphocyte depletion in the thymuses of infants and older babies (acute stress involution). We describe morphologic modifications in the thymus of fetuses with histologically proven chorioamnionitis and newborn infants with chorioamnionitis and proven sepsis. The main findings included (1) decreased organ volume (ANOVA, P < .0024); (2) reduced corticomedullary ratio (P < 10(-6)); (3) significant changes in the relationship between thymic parenchyma and thymic interstitial tissue with resulting increased organ complexity (P = .03); (4) severe reduction of thymocytes; and (5) other degenerative processes such as monocyte/macrophage infiltration of Hassall's bodies. These results indicate that chorioamnionitis, with or without sepsis, is associated with significant morphologic modifications in the thymus. We wish to note that the described thymic pathology is only one aspect of the fetal systemic inflammatory response syndrome with which chorioamnionitis is associated.

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