Response of thymus lymphocytes to streptozotocin-induced diabetes and exogenous vitamin C administration in rats

Microscopy (Oxf). 2014 Dec;63(6):409-17. doi: 10.1093/jmicro/dfu029. Epub 2014 Aug 21.


Diabetes causes oxidative stress, which in turn generates excessive free radicals resulting in cellular damage. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects tissues and organs from oxidative stress. The thymus is one of the most important lymphoid organs, which regulates T-lymphocyte proliferation and maturation. The aim of this study is to investigate the protective effects of vitamin C on the thymus of streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetic rats. The mitotic activity and cell integrity of thymic lymphocytes were explored. Wistar Albino rats were divided into three groups: control (Group 1), STZ-diabetes (Group 2) and vitamin C-treated STZ-diabetics (Group 3). Rats received a single intraperitoneal injection of 45 mg/kg STZ to induce diabetes. Vitamin C (20 mg/kg) was administered intragastrically. Semithin and ultrathin sections were examined under a light or an electron microscope, respectively. Considerable numbers of mitotic lymphocytes were observed in the thymus of control rats. In the diabetic rats, however, numbers of mitotic lymphocytes decreased to ∼57% of controls, and cell division abnormalities were observed. Additionally, diabetic rats showed degeneration in the structure of the thymus including trabecular thickening, accumulation of lipid vacuoles, heterochromatic nuclei and loss of mitochondrial cristae. Degradation of medullar and cortical integrity was also detected. In the vitamin C-treated STZ-diabetic group, the structure of the thymus and mitotic activity of the lymphocytes were similar to the control group. These results suggest that vitamin C protects the thymus against injury caused by diabetes and restores thymocyte mitotic activity.

Keywords: diabetes; electron microscope; mitotic activity; thymus; vitamin C.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ascorbic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / immunology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Experimental / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Microscopy
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Streptozocin
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • T-Lymphocytes / ultrastructure
  • Thymus Gland / drug effects
  • Thymus Gland / physiopathology
  • Thymus Gland / ultrastructure


  • Streptozocin
  • Ascorbic Acid