History of the discovery of the thymosins

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Sep;1112:1-13. doi: 10.1196/annals.1415.045. Epub 2007 Jun 28.


From a historical perspective, the studies that led to the isolation and characterization of the thymosins began in earnest in the early 1960s in the laboratory of Abraham White at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. In a 1966 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S., we first named these thymic-derived factors "Thymosins." By 1972, the thymosin team had moved to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (UTMB) where an extremely talented group of young scientists and students succeeded over the next 6 years in preparing and testing a highly active partially purified calf thymus preparation, termed thymosin fraction-5 (TF5), which was amenable for scale-up and suitable for clinical use. In 1974, we received the first IND for a thymic hormone preparation from the FDA to begin a phase-I study with TF5 in children with primary immunodeficiency diseases at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. The immunorestorative and potentially life-saving properties of TF5 in clinical medicine were first documented in a landmark paper in 1975 by Drs. Arthur Ammann and Diane Wara in the New England Journal of Medicine. TF5 consists of a family of at least 40 mostly small acidic polypeptides, with molecular weights ranging from 1000 to 15,000 Da. This article will identify the key scientists and the milestones involved in the initial studies with TF5 that have led to the chemical characterization of the thymosins and to translational studies from the lab bench to the clinic.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Periodicals as Topic
  • Thymectomy
  • Thymosin / history*
  • United States


  • Thymosin