The Immunoendocrine Thymus as a Pacemaker of Lifespan

Acta Microbiol Immunol Hung. 2016 Jun;63(2):139-58. doi: 10.1556/030.63.2016.2.1.


The thymus develops from an endocrine area of the foregut, and retains the ancient potencies of this region. However, later it is populated by bone marrow originated lymphatic elements and forms a combined organ, which is a central part of the immune system as well as an influential element of the endocrine orchestra. Thymus produces self-hormones (thymulin, thymosin, thymopentin, and thymus humoral factor), which are participating in the regulation of immune cell transformation and selection, and also synthesizes hormones similar to that of the other endocrine glands such as melatonin, neuropeptides, and insulin, which are transported by the immune cells to the sites of requests (packed transport). Thymic (epithelial and immune) cells also have receptors for hormones which regulate them. This combined organ, which is continuously changing from birth to senescence seems to be a pacemaker of life. This function is basically regulated by the selection of self-responsive thymocytes as their complete destruction helps the development (up to puberty) and their gradual release in case of weakened control (after puberty) causes the erosion of cells and intercellular material, named aging. This means that during aging, self-destructive and non-protective immune activities are manifested under the guidance of the involuting thymus, causing the continuous irritation of cells and organs. Possibly the pineal body is the main regulator of the pacemaker, the neonatal removal of which results in atrophy of thymus and wasting disease and its later corrosion causes the insufficiency of thymus. The co-involution of pineal and thymus could determine the aging and the time of death without external intervention; however, external factors can negatively influence both of them.

Keywords: death; hormonal system; immunity; lifespan regulation; pineal; thymus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Pineal Gland / growth & development
  • Pineal Gland / immunology
  • Thymus Gland / growth & development
  • Thymus Gland / immunology*
  • Thymus Hormones / immunology*


  • Thymus Hormones