The aged thymus shows normal recruitment of lymphohematopoietic progenitors but has defects in thymic epithelial cells

Int Immunol. 2007 Oct;19(10):1201-11. doi: 10.1093/intimm/dxm095. Epub 2007 Sep 5.


Aging is associated with reduced numbers of all thymocyte sub-populations, including early T-cell progenitors. However, it is unclear if this is due to inadequate recruitment of lymphohematopoietic progenitor cells (LPCs) to the aged thymus or to abnormal development of T cells within the thymus. We found that LPCs from young mice were recruited equally well to the thymi of young or aged mice and that thymic stromal cells (TSCs) from young and old mice expressed similar levels of P-selectin and CCL25, which are believed to mediate recruitment of LPCs to the adult thymus. However, the number of recruited thymocytes in old thymus was markedly reduced after two weeks, indicating that T-cell development or proliferation is defective in the aged thymus. We also found that LPCs from aged and young mice have similar capacities to seed a fetal thymus that was transplanted under the kidney capsule. Thymic epithelial cells (TECs) in aged mice had lower proliferative capacity and higher rate of apoptosis, compared with findings in young animals. In addition, immunofluorescence staining with antibodies to cortical and medullary TECs revealed that aged thymi had a disorganized thymic stromal architecture, combined with reduced cellularity of the medulla, and apoptosis of thymocyte sub-populations in the medullary microenvironment was increased, compared with that in young mice. We conclude that aging does not impair recruitment of LPCs to the thymus, but is characterized by abnormalities in thymic epithelial architecture, especially medullary TEC function that may provide sub-optimal support for thymic development of LPCs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Chemokines, CC / genetics
  • Chemokines, CC / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology*
  • Fetus / immunology
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cells / immunology*
  • Lymphoid Progenitor Cells / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • P-Selectin / genetics
  • P-Selectin / metabolism
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*


  • Ccl25 protein, mouse
  • Chemokines, CC
  • P-Selectin