Diabetes is a debilitating disease with chronic evolution that affects many tissues and organs over its course. Thymus is an organ that is affected early after the onset of diabetes, gradually involuting until it loses most of its thymocyte populations. We show evidence of accumulating free fatty acids with generation of eicosanoids in the diabetic thymus and we present a possible mechanism for the involution of the organ during the disease. Young rats were injected with streptozotocin and their thymuses examined for cell death by flow cytometry and TUNEL reaction. Accumulation of lipids in the diabetic thymus was investigated by histology and electron microscopy. The identity and quantitation of accumulating lipids was done with gas chromatography–mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography. The expression and dynamics of the enzymes were monitored via immunohistochemistry. Diabetes causes thymus involution by elevating the thymocyte apoptosis. Exposure of thymocytes to elevated concentration of glucose causes apoptosis. After the onset of diabetes, there is a gradual accumulation of free fatty acids in the stromal macrophages including arachidonic acid, the substrate for eicosanoids. The eicosanoids do not cause thymocyte apoptosis but administration of a cyclooxygenase inhibitor reduces the staining for ED1, a macrophage marker whose intensity correlates with phagocytic activity. Diabetes causes thymus involution that is accompanied by accumulation of free fatty acids in the thymic macrophages. Excess glucose is able to induce thymocyte apoptosis but eicosanoids are involved in the chemoattraction of macrophage to remove the dead thymocytes.
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This work was funded by the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research through two grants, PN2 42098/2008, awarded to F.A.M. and POSDRU/89/1.5/S/60746, awarded to V.L.O. The authors have not competing financial interests.
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Gruia, A.T., Barbu-Tudoran, L., Mic, A.A. et al. Arachidonic acid accumulates in the stromal macrophages during thymus involution in diabetes. Histochem Cell Biol 136, 79–92 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00418-011-0820-4
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