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Immunol Lett. 1994 Jun;40(3):269-77.

Understanding the mechanism of the age-change of thymic function to promote T cell differentiation.

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Department of Pathology, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Japan.


Immunological functions peak at around puberty and gradually decline thereafter with advancing age. The immunological decline mainly occurs in the T cell-dependent immune system and is generally associated with an increase in not only susceptibility to infections but also incidence of autoimmune phenomena. The age-related changes in T-cell dependent immune functions can be mainly ascribed to the physiological thymic involution which starts in the early phase of life. The age-related thymic involution can be ascribed to either extrinsic or intrinsic factors. Bone marrow stem cells can be one of the extrinsic factors for the thymic involution, but their role is estimated to be marginal as compared with alteration of the thymic microenvironment. With advancing age, the thymic capacity to promote T-cell differentiation declines together with a change in the composition of T-cell subsets produced. Such an alteration of the thymic environment is responsible for the age-related change in peripheral T cells in number and in composition. Age change is observed in several intrinsic factors in the thymic environment which influence proliferation of thymocytes. These thymic intrinsic factors can either promote or inhibit proliferation of thymocytes, and promoting factors generally decrease with age with a concomitant increase in inhibitory factors. Various endocrine hormones are important extrinsic factors influencing the thymic function. In fact, physiological thymic involution can be intervened by manipulation of the endocrine system, sometimes resulting in rejuvenation of immune functions to a certain extent.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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