Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonist restoration of age-associated decline of thymus weight, thymic LHRH receptors, and thymocyte proliferative capacity

B. Marchetti, V. Guarcello, M. C. Morale, G. Bartoloni, F. Raiti, G. Palumbo, Z. Farinella, S. Cordaro, U. Scapagnini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The presence of specific LHRH-binding sites within the rat thymus gland and the ability of LHRH and its agonistic and antagonistic analogs to directly modulate thymus function prompted us to study the possible changes in the number of thymic LHRH-binding sites during aging-induced physiological immunosenescence. Moreover, the effects of chronic treatment of aging rats with a potent LHRH agonist (LHRH-A) on thymic LHRH receptors, thymus weight and histology, as well as thymocyte proliferative capacity were assessed. For comparison, the effects of castration on the same parameters was also investigated. The process of aging is accompanied by a sharp reduction in LHRH-A-binding sites within the thymus gland of both female and male rats. Starting at 7 months of age, a 50% decrease in thymic LHRH-A binding was followed, at 11-13 months of age, by a nearly 65% inhibition of receptor numbers. In 16- to 19-month-old rats, LHRH-A binding was almost completely lost. Thymus weight was 30% reduced in 7-month-old animals, while a 50% reduction in thymic size was reached at 11 months of age in males and 13 months in female rats. A further decrease in thymic mass was observed at 16 and 19 months. Chronic (45-day) treatment of aging (15-16 months old) female and male rates with the potent LHRH-A, [D-Trp6,Des-Gly10]LHRH-N-ethylamide, reversed the age-related decreases in both thymus weight and thymic LHRH-binding sites. Similarly, surgical removal of testicular hormones by castration restored thymus weight and increased LHRH-A binding in the thymus of aged rats. While thymus histology in 3-month-old rats was characterized by a clear demarcation of cortical and medullary regions, only thymic remnants were present in 16- to 17-month-old animals. Castration of old rats resulted in a partial restoration of thymid structure, while chronic treatment of aging rats with the LHRH-A produced a homogeneous organization of both cortical and medullary compartments accompanied by a marked increase in the width of the cortical layer, densely packed with lymphocytes. While the process of aging was accompanied by an almost complete loss of the proliferative response of thymocytes to optimal concentrations of the mitogen Concanavalin-A, thymocyte cultures from old rats treated with LHRH-A or from castrated animals, displayed significantly greater proliferative responses. Furthermore, the combination of both manipulations resulted in a further significant increase in thymocyte proliferative capacity. The present results clearly indicate the ability of LHRH-A to exert a powerful modulation of immune system function during the physiological decline of immunological capacities. From such findings, it seems tempting to suggest a possible involvement of LHRH-like peptides in the hormonal modulation of immune function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1037-1045
Number of pages9
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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