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Have we underestimated the importance of the thymus in man?

Summary

Recent immunological research has concentrated on the complex and subtle interactions between T cells, B cells and accessory cells. In these studies, little attention has been given to the adult thymus gland. Modern textbooks of disease and anatomy all stress that the gland undergoes fatty involution with age in man but omit reference to the statements here and there in the literature that the gland is active and produces lymphocytes throughout life. To suggest that the bone marrow, which also builds up fat throughout life, is atrophic and not important to adult man would deny all modern hematological concepts. Yet few people today take a parallel view of the thymus except perhaps those investigating aging and thymic hormones. In both of these areas of research it is obvious that the thymus must be active throughout life for continued good health. This brief review urges that a thorough understanding of the vital importance of the thymus in adult life is now needed. From it could emerge a new philosophy on the treatment of immune diseases in both the young (SCID and AIDS patients) and in the aged (autoimmune conditions and cancers) and it would aid our treatment of patients recovering from illnesses and from many drug treatments.

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Kendall, M.D. Have we underestimated the importance of the thymus in man?. Experientia 40, 1181–1185 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01946644

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Key words

  • Thymus
  • thymic hormones
  • thymic atrophy