Both age and gender affect thymic output: more recent thymic migrants in females than males as they age

Clin Exp Immunol. 2001 Sep;125(3):409-13. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2249.2001.01640.x.


The thymus undergoes age-associated involution, with studies showing thymic size decreasing from birth at a rate of approximately 3% per year until middle age, and at a rate of 1% per year thereafter. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of thymic atrophy on T-lymphocyte production by the thymus, and to clarify the ongoing uncertainty regarding gender differences in thymic function. We quantified recent thymic emigrants (RTEs) in blood through the measurement of signal joint T-cell receptor rearrangement excision circles (sjTRECs), and showed that the decline in the number of RTEs in the blood with increasing age is gender-linked. Peripheral blood from females contained significantly higher levels of sjTRECs per CD3+ T cell than blood from males (P = 0.002), despite there being no significant gender difference in the absolute number of CD3+ T cells in the populations analysed (P > 0.10). Our findings suggest better thymic function in females compared with males, providing females with a higher number of recent thymic emigrants for longer periods of life. Such a finding provides a plausible explanation for the immunological gender differences observed in previous studies and possibly, for the general longer life expectancy in females compared with males.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Atrophy
  • CD3 Complex
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / genetics
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*


  • CD3 Complex
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell