Altered expression of galectin-3 induces cortical thymocyte depletion and premature exit of immature thymocytes during Trypanosoma cruzi infection

Am J Pathol. 2007 Feb;170(2):546-56. doi: 10.2353/ajpath.2007.060389.


During acute infection with Trypanosoma cruzi, the causative agent of Chagas' disease, the thymus undergoes intense atrophy followed by a premature escape of CD4+CD8+ immature cortical thymocytes. Here we report a pivotal role for the endogenous lectin galectin-3 in accelerating death of thymocytes and migration of these cells away from the thymus after T. cruzi infection. We observed a pronounced increase in galectin-3 expression that paralleled the extensive depletion of CD4+CD8+ immature thymocytes after infection. In vitro, recombinant galectin-3 induced increased levels of death in cortical immature thymocytes. Consistent with the role of galectin-3 in promoting cell death, thymuses from gal-3-/- mice did not show cortical thymocyte depletion after parasite infection in vivo. In addition, galectin-3 accelerated laminin-driven CD4+CD8+ thymocyte migration in vitro and in vivo induced exportation of CD4+CD8+ cells from the thymus to the peripheral compartment. Our findings provide evidence of a novel role for galectin-3 in the regulation of thymus physiology and identify a potential mechanism based on protein-glycan interactions in thymic atrophy associated with acute T. cruzi infection.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atrophy / genetics
  • Atrophy / metabolism
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • CD4 Antigens / metabolism*
  • CD8 Antigens / metabolism*
  • Cell Death / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Chagas Disease / genetics
  • Chagas Disease / metabolism*
  • Galectin 3 / deficiency
  • Galectin 3 / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Thymus Gland / metabolism*
  • Thymus Gland / parasitology
  • Thymus Gland / pathology
  • Trypanosoma cruzi*


  • CD4 Antigens
  • CD8 Antigens
  • Galectin 3
  • Lgals3 protein, mouse