The restoration of the thymic functions and the thymic re-growth may be achieved in old mice by some endocrinological (melatonin) or nutritional interventions (arginine or zinc), suggesting that the thymic involution in old age is a phenomenon secondary to age-related alterations occurring in neuroendocrine-thymus interactions. The targets for the thymic restoration may be hormone receptors and cytokines, strictly related to the presence of two nutritional factors, such as arginine and zinc, which are in turn essential for the efficiency of neuroendocrine-immune network both in ontogeny and ageing. The effect of melatonin is largely due to the presence of its specific receptors on cell membrane of thymocytes and Thymic Epithelial Cells (TECs). TECs synthesize thymulin peptide that is required for T-cell differentiation and maturation within the thymus gland. In this context, the role of zinc is pivotal because it is involved, through "zinc finger motifs", in the gene expression of melatonin receptors, in cell proliferation, apoptosis and thymulin reactivation. Zinc is also required for the biological action of arginine, via Nitric Oxide pathway. Therefore, the beneficial effect of melatonin or arginine on neuroendocrine-thymus interaction in ageing can also occur via a better zinc pool redistribution within the body where the capability of the zinc-binding proteins Metallothioneins (MT) in zinc release has a key role. These findings suggest that zinc, via MT buffering, can be a single mediator in modulating neuroendocrine-thymus interaction in ageing.
- Thymic rejuvenation
- Thymus-hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis
- Zinc pool
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geriatrics and Gerontology