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Aging Cell. 2008 Mar;7(2):158-67. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-9726.2007.00365.x. Epub 2008 Jan 28.

Architectural changes in the thymus of aging mice.

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  • 1Host Response and Genes and Development Group, Department of Veterinary Basic Sciences, Royal Veterinary College, Royal College Street, London NW1 0TU, UK.


Age-associated thymic involution is one of the most dramatic and ubiquitous changes in the immune system, although the precise mechanisms involved still remain obscured. Several hypotheses have been proposed incorporating extrinsic and intrinsic factors, however, changes in the thymic microenvironment itself is one of the least investigated. We therefore decided to undertake a detailed histological examination of the aging thymus in order to elucidate possible mechanisms of thymic atrophy. This investigation provides insight into the changes within the murine thymus with age, demonstrating a new approach to quantify protein expressional differences while preserving the thymic architecture. There is a decline in expression of thymic epithelial cell-specific makers and an increase in fibroblast content in the aging mouse thymus. This is concurrent with a disorganization of the thymic compartments, a morphological transformation within the epithelial cells and alterations of their archetypal staining patterns. Furthermore, this is linked to a rise in apoptotic cells and the novel finding of increased senescence in the thymus of older mice that appears to be colocalized in the epithelial compartment. These changes within the thymic epithelial cells may be in part accountable for thymic atrophy and responsible for the decline in T-cell output.

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