Adipocyte and leptin accumulation in tumor-induced thymic involution

Int J Mol Med. 2016 Jan;37(1):133-8. doi: 10.3892/ijmm.2015.2392. Epub 2015 Oct 27.


Cell-mediated immunity is an important defense mechanism against pathogens and developing tumor cells. The thymus is the main lymphoid organ involved in the formation of the cell-mediated immune response by the maturation and differentiation of lymphocytes that travel from the bone marrow, through the lymphatic ducts, to become T lymphocytes. Thymic involution has been associated with aging; however, other factors such as obesity, viral infection and tumor development have been shown to increase the rate of shrinkage of this organ. The heavy infiltration of adipocyte fat cells has been reported in the involuted thymuses of aged mice. In the present study, the possible accumulation of such cells in the thymus during tumorigenesis was examined by immunohistochemistry. A significant number of adipocytes around and infiltrating the thymuses of tumor-bearing mice was observed. Leptin is a pro-inflammatory adipocytokine that enhances thymopoiesis and modulates T cell immune responses. The levels of leptin and adiponectin, another adipocytokine that has anti-inflammatory properties, were examined by western blot analysis. While no changes were observed in the amounts of adiponectin present in the thymuses of the normal and tumor-bearing mice, significantly higher levels of leptin were detected in the thymocytes of the tumor-bearing mice. This correlated with an increase in the expression of certain cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-2, interferon (IFN)-γ and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). The co-culture of thymocytes isolated from normal mice with ex vivo isolated adipocytes from tumor-bearing mice yielded similar results. Our findings suggest that the infiltration and accumulation of adipocytes in the thymuses of tumor-bearing mice play an important role in their altered morphology and functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes / immunology
  • Adipocytes / pathology*
  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / immunology
  • Carcinogenesis / pathology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / analysis
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / analysis
  • Interferon-gamma / immunology
  • Interleukin-2 / analysis
  • Interleukin-2 / immunology
  • Leptin / analysis*
  • Leptin / immunology
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Organ Size
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Thymus Gland / immunology
  • Thymus Gland / pathology*


  • Interleukin-2
  • Leptin
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor