Effect of melatonin and pineal grafting on thymocyte apoptosis in aging mice

Mauro Provinciali, Giuseppina Di Stefano, Daniele Bulian, Alberto Tibaldi, Nicola Fabris

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We have evaluated the effect of chronic melatonin (MEL) treatment or pineal grafting (PG) in old mice on the apoptosis of both thymocytes and spleen lymphocytes under conditions of either serum deprivation or glucocorticoid or zinc administration. The apoptosis was correlated with the modulation of thymus and adrenal weight and corticosterone and zinc plasma levels induced by MEL treatment or PG in old mice. Balb/c mice (17-18 months old) were given supplements of MEL (40-50 μg/day/mouse) or grafted with a young pineal gland and then sacrificed after 8 months. Both the MEL treatment and PG partially prevented thymic involution in very old mice. Both treatments protected the thymic and spleen lymphocytes in old mice from the apoptosis induced by serum deprivation and recovered the reduced thymocyte sensitivity to the apoptosis induced by dexamethasone (DEX), present in old untreated animals, to the values found in young mice. DEX caused a bigger loss of G0/G1 phase cells in MEL treated mice than in old untreated mice. The protective action of MEL treatment or PG on serum deprivation induced apoptosis was correlated with increased thymus weight, reduced adrenal weight and corticosterone levels and increased zinc plasma levels. The greater DEX-induced apoptosis found in MEL treated and PG mice was correlated with reduced adrenal weight and function. In vitro MEL did not affect thymocyte apoptosis in young or old mice. These results suggest that MEL treatment or PG prevent age-related thymus involution through regulation of thymocyte apoptosis which, in turn, occurs through modulation of the pituitary-adrenal axis and zinc turnover determined by the pineal hormone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalMechanisms of Ageing and Development
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sep 9 1996


  • Aging
  • Apoptosis
  • Melatonin
  • Mice
  • Neuroimmunomodulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ageing
  • Biochemistry
  • Developmental Biology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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