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Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2001 Feb;47(1):189-96.

Beta-adrenoceptor blockade alters thymocyte differentiation in aged mice.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the Center for Psychoneuroimmunology Research, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, New York, USA.


The thymus is the primary site for generation of naive T-lymphocytes in the young animal. With age, the thymus progressively involutes and fewer mature T-cells are produced and migrate to the periphery. With thymic involution, increased density of sympathetic noradrenergic (NA) innervation and concentration of norepinephrine (NE) have been observed. To determine if the age-related changes in thymocyte differentiation are modified by NE signaling through beta-adrenergic receptors, 2-month (mo) and 18-mo old BALB/c mice were implanted subcutaneously with pellets containing the non-selective beta-adrenoceptor antagonist nadolol. Four and one-half weeks later, thymus and peripheral blood were collected to assess changes in thymocyte differentiation and naive T-cell output by flow cytometric analysis of T-cell subpopulations. In old mice, but not in young mice, thymocyte CD4/CD8 co-expression was altered by beta-adrenoceptor blockade. In nadolol-treated old mice, the frequency of the immature CD4-8- population was increased, and the intermediate CD4+8+ population was reduced. A corresponding increase in the frequency of mature CD4-8+, but not CD4+8- cells was observed. The increase in CD4-8+ cells is most likely not mediated by more CD4-8+ cells undergoing positive selection, because CD3hi expression in the CD4+8+ population was not altered by nadolol. The percentage of CD8+44low naive cells in peripheral blood increased in nadolol-treated mice, suggesting that more CD4-8+ cells were exported from the thymus to the periphery. These results indicate that the age-associated increase in sympathetic NA innervation of the thymus modulates thymocyte maturation. Pharmacological manipulation of NA innervation may provide a novel means of increasing naive T-cell output and improving T-cell reactivity to novel antigens with age.

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