Plasticity of neuro-endocrine-thymus interactions during aging--a minireview.

N. Fabris, E. Mocchegiani, M. Provinciali

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Thymic regrowth and reactivation of thymic endocrine activity may be achieved even in old animals by different endocrinological or nutritional manipulations. In particular: a) intrathymic transplant of pineal gland or treatment with melatonin; b) implantation of a growth hormone secreting tumor cell line or treatment with exogenous growth hormone; c) castration or treatment with exogenous LH-RH; d) treatment with exogenous thyroxine or triiodothyronine, and e) nutritional interventions such as arginine or zinc supplementation. These data strongly support the idea that thymic involution is a phenomenon secondary to age-related alterations in neuroendocrine-thymus interactions and that it is the disruption of such interactions in old age which is responsible for most of age-associated dysfunctions. With regard to the mechanisms involved in hormone-induced thymic reconstitution, it is, at present, difficult to draw any definitive conclusion. The effect of GH, thyroid hormones and LH-RH may be due to the presence on thymic epithelial cells, supposed to produce thymic peptides, of the specific hormone receptors. Melatonin or pineal derived factors may as well act through specific receptors but experimental demonstration is still lacking. The role of zinc, whose turnover is usually reduced in old age, is of quite wide-range: from the reactivation of zinc-dependent enzymes, required for both cell proliferation and apoptosis, to the reactivation of thymulin, a zinc-dependent thymic hormone. The role of zinc may be even more crucial. According to recent preliminary data obtained both in animal and in man, it appears that the above reported endocrinological manipulations, capable of restoring thymic activity in old age, may act also by normalizing the altered zinc pool.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-541
Number of pages13
JournalCellular and Molecular Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology

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