Post-thymectomy murine experimental autoimmune oophoritis is associated with reduced natural killer cell activity

Am J Reprod Immunol. 1997 Nov;38(5):360-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0897.1997.tb00312.x.


Problem: Natural killer (NK) cells can influence the immune response by secreting potent lymphokines. It has been suggested that NK cells have a suppressive action on B cells, and that impaired NK cell activity may play a role in some types of autoimmunity. NK cell abnormalities have been reported in women with premature ovarian failure. We therefore examined NK cell activity during the development of murine experimental autoimmune oophoritis, which serves as a model for autoimmune ovarian failure in women.

Method of study: Neonatally thymectomized and sham-operated C57B1/6 x A/J (B6A) mice were prepared and sacrificed at 4, 6, 8, and 10 weeks after surgery. Splenic NK cell activity was determined in groups of five or more mice by measuring the percent specific lysis of target YAC-1 lymphoma cells using a standard 4-hr chromium release cytotoxicity assay. The number of splenic NK cells in neonatally thymectomized and sham-operated animals was also compared using flow cytometry. In a subsequent experiment, interleukin 12 (IL-12; NK cell-stimulating factor) was administered to neonatal mice before neonatal thymectomy.

Results: Neonatally thymectomized mice with associated autoimmune oophoritis had a 75% reduction in the number of splenic NK cells, and 50% or greater reduction in splenic NK cell activity at 4, 6, and 8 weeks after surgery. IL-12 treatment before neonatal thymectomy maintained NK cell activity and was shown to ameliorate the associated autoimmune oophoritis.

Conclusion: Murine post-thymectomy autoimmune oophoritis is associated with reduced NK cell number and impaired NK cell activity, and in these respects the model is similar to premature ovarian failure in women. Research to define the relationship between NK cell abnormalities and the mechanism of ovarian failure in this model might lend insight into the pathogenesis of premature ovarian failure in women.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Autoimmune Diseases / etiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Autoimmunity
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-12 / administration & dosage
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred A
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Oophoritis / etiology
  • Oophoritis / immunology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Primary Ovarian Insufficiency / etiology
  • Primary Ovarian Insufficiency / immunology
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Thymectomy / adverse effects


  • Interleukin-12