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Normal development of thymus in male and female mice requires estrogen/estrogen receptor-alpha signaling pathway



Normal development of thymus in male and female mice requires estrogen/estrogen receptor-alpha signaling pathway



Endocrine 12(3): 207-213



Estrogen receptors (ERs) are expressed in the thymus of both males and females, but their role in thymic development and function is unclear. To determine whether ERalpha plays a role in thymic function of either males or females, we compared thymuses of male and female wild-type (WT) and ERalpha knockout (alphaERKO) mice from birth to adulthood. Although thymic size was similar in both male and female WT and alphaERKO mice at birth (d 0), by postnatal d 5 and at all subsequent ages, both male and female alphaERKO mice had significant (30-55%) reductions in thymic weight. Morphometric analysis revealed a reduction in thymic medullary areas in adult alphaERKO mice compared with age-matched WT controls that paralleled thymic involution. There were changes in relative percentages of CD4+ and CD4+CD8+ T-cells, and large decreases (70-80%) in overall absolute numbers of CD4+ and CD4+CD8+ T-cells. Serum corticosterone and testosterone levels were not different in either neonatal or adult male WT or alphaERKO mice, and serum levels of 17beta-estradiol (E2) were similar in neonatal WT and alphaERKO males, indicating that increases in these thymolytic hormones are not responsible for the decreased thymic weight in alphaERKO males. Additionally, delayed-type hypersensitivity was significantly increased in male alphaERKO mice compared with WT mice. In summary, ERalpha deficiency does not inhibit initial differentiation or fetal thymic development, but the absence of ERalpha results in marked decreases in thymic size in both sexes during the postnatal period. These results are the first direct demonstration that the E2/ERalpha signaling system is necessary for maintenance of normal postnatal function of the female thymus gland. The similar results obtained in males demonstrate a role for the E2/ERalpha signaling system in the male thymus and emphasize that estrogens play a more critical role in the male than previously realized.

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Accession: 011068491

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PMID: 10963039


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