Role of thymulin or its analogue as a new analgesic molecule

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Nov;1088:153-63. doi: 10.1196/annals.1366.006.


The thymic peptide thymulin is known for its immunomodulatory role. However, several recent reports have indicated that thymulin is capable of interacting directly and/or indirectly with the nervous system. One of the first lines of evidence of this interaction was obtained in a series of experiments showing the hyperalgesic actions of this peptide. We demonstrated that, at low doses (ng), local (intraplantar) or systemic (intraperitoneal) injections of thymulin resulted in hyperalgesia with an increase in proinflammatory mediators, and that this peptide could act directly on the afferent nerve terminals through prostaglandin-E2 (PGE2)-dependent mechanisms, thus forming a neuroimmune loop involving capsaicin-sensitive primary afferent fibers. In further experiments, systemic injections of relatively high doses (1-25 microg) of thymulin or of an analogue peptide (PAT) deprived of hyperalgesic effect, have been shown to reduce the inflammatory pain and the upregulated levels of cytokines induced by endotoxin (ET) injection. In addition, PAT treatment appeared to alleviate the sickness behavior (motor behavior and fever) induced by systemic inflammation. These effects could be attributed, at least partly, to the downregulation of proinflammatory mediators. Furthermore, when compared with the effects of other anti-inflammatory drugs, PAT exerted equal or even stronger analgesic effects, and at much lower concentrations. Subsequent experiments were designed to examine the effects of intracerebroventricular (i.c.v.) injections of thymulin on cerebral inflammation induced by i.c.v. injection of ET. Pretreatment with thymulin reduced, in a dose-dependent manner, the ET-induced hyperalgesia, and exerted differential effects on the upregulated levels of cytokines in different areas of the brain, suggesting a neuroprotective role for thymulin in the central nervous system (CNS). Preliminary results demonstrate that thymulin inhibits in the hippocampus the ET-induced nuclear activation of NF-kappaB, the transcription factor required for the expression of proinflammatory cytokines genes. Although the mechanism of action of these molecules is not totally elucidated, our results indicate a possible therapeutic use of thymulin or PAT as analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / immunology
  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hyperalgesia / drug therapy*
  • Hyperalgesia / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain / immunology
  • Thymic Factor, Circulating / analogs & derivatives*
  • Thymic Factor, Circulating / immunology


  • Analgesics
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Thymic Factor, Circulating