Elevated intrathymic sphingosine-1-phosphate promotes thymus involution during sepsis

Mol Immunol. 2017 Oct:90:255-263. doi: 10.1016/j.molimm.2017.08.011. Epub 2017 Aug 30.


Sepsis mouse models revealed thymus atrophy, characterised by decreased thymus weight and loss of thymocytes due to apoptosis. Mice suffered from lymphopenia, a lack of T cells in the periphery, which attenuates their ability to fight against recurring and secondary infections during sepsis progression. Key players in thymus atrophy are IL-6, which is directly involved in thymus involution, and the sphingosine-1-phosphate - sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor 1 signaling, influencing thymocytes emigration. In healthy individuals a sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) gradient from lymphoid organs to the circulatory system serves as signal for mature T cell egress. In the present study we investigated, whether inhibition of S1P generation improves thymus involution. In sepsis, induced by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP), S1P in the thymus increased, while it decreased in serum, thus disrupting the naturally occurring S1P gradient. As a potential source of S1P we identified increased numbers of apoptotic cells in the thymic cortex of septic mice. Pharmacological inhibition of the S1P generating sphingosine kinases, by 4- [[4-(4-Chlorophenyl)-2-thiazolyl]amino]phenol (SK I-II), administered directly following CLP, prevented thymus atrophy. This was reflected by lymphocytosis, diminished apoptosis, decreased IL-6 expression, and an unaltered thymus weight. In addition SK I-II-treatment preserved the S1P balance and prevented S1P-dependent internalization of the sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor 1. Our data suggest that inhibition of sphingosine kinase and thus, S1P generation during sepsis restores thymic T cell egress, which might improve septic outcome.

Keywords: Apoptosis; Sepsis; Sphingosine-1-phosphate; T cells; Thymus involution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminophenols / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Atrophy / pathology
  • Atrophy / prevention & control
  • Cecum / surgery
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Interleukin-6 / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-6 / immunology
  • Lymphocytosis
  • Lymphopenia
  • Lysophospholipids / blood*
  • Lysophospholipids / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor) / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Lysosphingolipid / metabolism
  • Sepsis / pathology*
  • Sphingosine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Sphingosine / blood
  • Sphingosine / metabolism
  • Thiazoles / pharmacology
  • Thymocytes / cytology
  • Thymocytes / metabolism*
  • Thymus Gland / pathology*


  • 4-((4-(4-chlorophenyl)-2-thiazolyl)amino)phenol
  • Aminophenols
  • Interleukin-6
  • Lysophospholipids
  • Receptors, Lysosphingolipid
  • Thiazoles
  • interleukin-6, mouse
  • sphingosine 1-phosphate
  • Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor)
  • sphingosine kinase
  • Sphingosine