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Am J Clin Pathol. 1985 Jul;84(1):85-95.

Thymus involution in the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.


Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a severe disorder of unknown etiology and pathogenesis, predominantly affecting homosexual males and other high-risk groups and characterized by profound alterations in T-lymphocyte function. The authors have examined thymus tissue from 14 patients who died of AIDS and compared the results with findings in five control groups: healthy age-matched controls, elderly individuals, patients with chronic or debilitating illnesses other than AIDS, infants with conditions causing "stress atrophy," and patients with myasthenia gravis. The AIDS group included 11 homosexual males, 1 Haitian, 1 homosexual who was also a drug abuser, and a 10-month-old infant believed to have contracted AIDS following blood transfusion. All the AIDS cases showed marked thymus involution with severe depletion of both lymphocytes and epithelial elements. The latter component consisted primarily of thin cords and nests of primitive-appearing epithelial cells that could be defined by positive immunohistochemical staining for keratin. Many cases showed a variable plasma cell infiltration, and the majority exhibited distinct vascular changes in the form of hyalinization and/or onion-skin patterns, primarily in the adventitia. Most striking of all was the marked paucity of Hassall's corpuscles; four patients had none at all, while in the other ten patients all the Hassall's corpuscles were calcified. These changes were far more extensive than those seen in any of the control groups, which retained most of their complement of Hassall's corpuscles even in the face of marked overall involution. The physiologic function of Hassall's corpuscles is not known, but recent immunohistochemical studies have implicated them in the synthesis of "facteur thymique serique" (FTS, thymulin) and other thymic hormones known to play a role in regulating T-helper and suppressor cell activity. It is conceivable that the extensive destruction of Hassall's corpuscles observed in AIDS may be a crucial element in the pathogenesis of this syndrome.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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