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Dev Comp Immunol. 2008;32(4):410-20. Epub 2007 Aug 28.

Functional analysis of neuropeptides in avian thymocyte development.

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Host Response and Genes and Development Groups, Department of Veterinary Basic Sciences, Royal Veterinary College, Royal College Street, London NW1 0TU, UK.


The function of lymphoid organs and immune cells is often modulated by peptides and hormones produced by the neuroendocrine and immune systems. We have previously reported the intrathymic expression of neuropeptides in the thymus of different species and that neuropeptides can influence murine thymocyte development in vitro. To further explore the evolutionary nature of neuroendocrine interactions in the thymus, we identified the expression of calcitonin-gene-related peptide, neuropeptide Y, somatostatin (SOM), substance P and vasointestinal polypeptide, as well as their receptors on chicken thymic epithelial cells (TEC) and thymocytes by immunofluorescence and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). All the studied neuropeptides and their receptors were found to be expressed in both TEC and thymocytes, suggesting that intrathymic neuroendocrine interactions may take place within the avian thymus. In order to elucidate whether such interactions play a role in avian thymocyte development, neuropeptides and their antagonists were added to embryonic thymus organ cultures and found to influence chicken thymopoiesis. In particular, an antagonist of SOM increased the proportion of double-positive thymocytes, while SOM itself appeared to inhibit the early stages of thymocyte development. Taken together, these data provide further evidence to suggest that neuropeptides play a conserved role in vertebrate thymocyte development.

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