Thymus Size and Age-related Thymic Involution: Early Programming, Sexual Dimorphism, Progenitors and Stroma

Aging Dis. 2012 Jun;3(3):280-90. Epub 2012 Mar 14.


Age-related thymic involution is characterized by a progressive regression in thymus size and a diminishment of thymic structure. A decrease in thymic compartments leads to the reduction of thymopoiesis. Thymic involution is closely associated with immunosenescence, a degeneration of the immune system primarily due to the alterations in T-cell composition. Strategies to improve the consequences of the aging thymus are currently under investigation. A wide array of knowledge has revealed a series of factors that are essential in the overall determination of thymic function and immune response. Evidence indicates that early programming of the thymus, sexual dimorphism, and the efficiency of specific T-cell progenitors and the thymic microenvironment are all crucial determinants of immune activity from early life through advanced ages. To fully understand the processes involved in age-related thymic involution, such determinants must be considered. The central purpose of this review is to emphasize previous and most recent evidence suggesting that these factors contribute to the influence of long-term immunity and ultimately shape the progression of thymic involution in advanced age.

Keywords: Age-related thymic involution; Early life programming; Sexual dimorphism; T-cell progenitor; Thymic stroma.