Restoration of the thymus in aging mice by in vivo zinc supplementation

Clin Immunol Immunopathol. 1993 Feb;66(2):127-35. doi: 10.1006/clin.1993.1016.


A multiparametric study of the thymus was performed in normal aging mice (12-15 months old) submitted to a mild oral zinc supplementation during 3-6 months as compared to age-matched control mice. First, this study demonstrated that in rodents, zinc levels are significantly reduced with aging and can be restored to values close to those observed in young animals after 6 months of zinc supplementation. Second, our data showed that oral zinc administration stimulates thymus growth and partially restores the microenvironmental as well as lymphoid compartments of the organ. Regarding thymic endocrine function, a significant increase in thymulin levels and a concomitant decrease in plasma thymulin inhibitors were observed, suggesting that the age-related decline of thymic function might at least partially be due to extrinsic factors, such as zinc deficiency. The total number of thymic lymphocytes was consistently increased, without significant changes in CD4/CD8 defined thymocyte subsets. Finally, structural changes of the thymus epithelium were also detected, including the disappearance of epithelial cysts frequently observed in old animals, reappearance of a normal pattern of the thymic epithelial cell network, and a decrease in the extracellular matrix network. Taken together, these data suggest that aging-related physiological zinc deficiency induces some relevant changes in thymus structure and function which can be partially corrected by a mild oral zinc supplementation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Organ Size
  • Thymic Factor, Circulating / analysis
  • Thymic Factor, Circulating / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Thymus Gland / drug effects*
  • Thymus Gland / pathology
  • Thymus Gland / physiology
  • Zinc / deficiency
  • Zinc / pharmacology*


  • Thymic Factor, Circulating
  • Zinc