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Trends Immunol. 2004 Nov;25(11):595-600.

Different roles for glucocorticoids in thymocyte homeostasis?

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Microbiology and Tumor Biology Center (MTC), Karolinska Institute, Box 280, S-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden.


Glucocorticoids (GCs) have important immunoregulatory effects on thymocytes and T cells. Ectopic production of GCs has been demonstrated in thymic epithelial cells (TECs) but the role of GCs in thymocyte homeostasis is controversial. Studies in several different mouse models, genetically modified for the GC receptor (GR) expression or function, have demonstrated conflicting results in terms of the effect of the hormone on thymocytes. Here, we summarize these data and suggest that GCs can mediate both positive and negative effects in the organ depending on the local hormonal concentration. Basal GC levels might promote growth of early thymocytes in young mice, and increased levels, generated through a stress reaction, apoptosis in these cells. A gradual loss of GC synthesis in TECs during aging might contribute to thymic involution, a process so far unexplained.

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