Effect of selenium and vitamin E dietary deficiencies on chick lymphoid organ development

Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1986 Sep;182(4):425-36. doi: 10.3181/00379727-182-42361.


Diets specifically deficient in selenium (Se) and/or vitamin E or adequate in both nutrients were fed to chicks from the time of hatching. Lymphoid organs (bursa, thymus, and in some instances, spleen) were collected from chicks 7-35 days of age. Growth of the chicks fed these diets was monitored over the experimental period as was lymphoid organ growth. The development of the primary lymphoid organs was further assessed by histological techniques and the organ contents of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) and Se were determined. Specific deficiencies of either Se or vitamin E were found to significantly impair bursal growth as did a combined deficiency. Thymic growth was impaired only by the combined deficiency diet. Severe histopathological changes in the bursa resulted from the combined deficiency and these were detectable by 10-14 days after hatching. These changes were characterized by a gradual degeneration of the epithelium and an accompanying depletion of lymphocytes. Similar changes, although slower to develop and less severe, were observed in the thymus as a result of the combined deficiency. When both serum and tissue levels of vitamin E and Se were monitored, it was observed that these were rapidly and independently depleted by the specific deficiency diets. These data suggest that the primary lymphoid organs are major targets of Se and vitamin E dietary deficiencies and provide a possible mechanism by which immune function may be impaired.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bursa of Fabricius / pathology
  • Chickens
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / analysis
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Lymphocytes
  • Lymphoid Tissue / analysis
  • Lymphoid Tissue / growth & development*
  • Male
  • Selenium / deficiency*
  • Thymus Gland / pathology
  • Vitamin E / analysis
  • Vitamin E Deficiency / immunology
  • Vitamin E Deficiency / pathology
  • Vitamin E Deficiency / physiopathology*


  • Vitamin E
  • Glutathione Peroxidase
  • Selenium