Evolution of neuroendocrine thymus: Studies on POMC-derived peptides, cytokines and apoptosis in lower and higher vertebrates

Enzo Ottaviani, Antonella Franchini, Claudio Franceschi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In previous papers, we showed that neuroendocrine cells reactive to anti-POMC-derived peptides and cytokines are present in the thymus of a fish and an anuran amphibian. Here we report that this phenomenon is general, as neuroendocrine cells positive to anti-POMC-derived peptides (ACTH, β-endorphin, α-MSH) and cytokines (IL-1α, IL-2, IL-6, TNF-α) are also present in the thymus of chicken and rat. However, the number and the intrathymic localization and distribution of these cells varies in the different species examined. An analysis of apoptotic cells or cells involved in apoptosis, such as interdigitating cells and macrophages, in fish, frog, chicken and rat thymus, using an immunocytochemical method and anti-DNA mAb conjugated with peroxidase (anti-DNA-POD), showed that cells positive to anti-DNA-POD mAb are present in the same thymic areas in which POMC-derived peptides and cytokines were found. In conclusion, these data on apoptotic cells in the thymus of lower and higher vertebrates are compatible wilh the hypothesis that neuroendocrine cells might play a role in the selection and apoptosis of thymic lymphocytes, a phenomenon which could vary slightly in different species and taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-74
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroimmunology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1997



  • apoptosis
  • cytokines
  • lower and higher vertebrates
  • POMC-derived peptides
  • thymus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Neurology

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