Sexual dimorphism in rat thymic involution: a correlation with thymic oxidative status and inflammation.


Department of Pathobiology, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Belgrade, 450 Vojvode Stepe, 11221, Belgrade, Serbia. [Email]


The study investigated mechanisms underlying sex differences in thymic involution in Dark Agouti rats. Adverse effects of aging on thymus were more pronounced in males than in females. Thymi from old males exhibited more prominent: (i) fibro-adipose degeneration which correlated with greater intensity of thymic oxidative stress and enhanced thymic TGF-β and IL-6 expression and (ii) decline in thymopoiesis, as suggested by the number of the most mature CD4+CD8-/CD4-CD8+ single positive (SP) TCRαβhigh thymocytes. The greater accumulation of adipose tissue in old male thymus was linked with greater age-related increase in thymic expression of PPARγ and STAT3, a transcription factor regulating the expression of PPARγ downstream genes, in male than in female rats. In aged thymi of both sexes the early CD4-CD8- double negative (DN) stage of thymocyte development was affected, so relative accumulation of the least mature CD45RC+CD2- cells followed by decreased frequency of their DN and CD4+CD8+ double positive (DP) TCRαβ- descendants was observed. Additionally, in old males, because of the increased thymic expression of Nur77, a nuclear receptor involved in negative selection, and decreased CD90 (a negative regulator of thymocyte selection threshold) MFI on DP TCRαβint thymocytes, less efficient positive/more efficient negative selection was found. Moreover, in male rats, thymocyte post-selection differentiation/maturation was skewed towards CD4-CD8+ SP TCRαβhigh cells compared with age-matched females, reflecting, at least partly, greater IL-15 expression in their thymi. The study indicated mechanisms underlying sex-based differences in age-related thymic changes and consequently necessity of sex-specific approaches in designing strategies to rejuvenate thymus.


Aging,Fibro-adipose thymic involution,Sex differences,Thymic inflammatory/redox state,Thymopoiesis,