Thymus-Brain Connections in T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Neuroimmunomodulation. 2024;31(1):51-61. doi: 10.1159/000536419. Epub 2024 Feb 16.


Background: T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) is a malignant hematologic disease caused by the transformation and uncontrolled proliferation of T-cell precursors. T-ALL is generally thought to originate in the thymus since lymphoblasts express phenotypic markers comparable to those described in thymocytes in distinct stages of development. Although around 50% of T-ALL patients present a thymic mass, T-ALL is characterized by peripheral blood and bone marrow involvement, and central nervous system (CNS) infiltration is one of the most severe complications of the disease.

Summary: The CNS invasion is related to the expression of specific adhesion molecules and receptors commonly expressed in developing T cells, such as L-selectin, CD44, integrins, and chemokine receptors. Furthermore, T-ALL blasts also express neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and cognate receptors that are usually present in the CNS and can affect both the brain and thymus, participating in the crosstalk between the organs.

Key messages: This review discusses how the thymus-brain connections, mediated by innervation and common molecules and receptors, can impact the development and migration of T-ALL blasts, including CNS infiltration.

Keywords: Brain; Cell migration; Central nervous system; Neurotransmitters; T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia; Thymus.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain* / immunology
  • Brain* / metabolism
  • Brain* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Precursor T-Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma* / metabolism
  • Precursor T-Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma* / pathology
  • Thymus Gland* / pathology