Intrathymic T-cell differentiation is under the control of the thymic microenvironment, which acts on maturing thymocytes via membrane as well as soluble products. Increasing data show that this process can be modulated by classical hormones, as exemplified herein by prolactin (PRL) and growth hormone (GH), largely secreted by the pituitary gland.Both PRL and GH stimulate the secretion of thymulin, a thymic hormone produced by thymic epithelial cells. Conversely, low levels of circulating thymulin parallel hypopituitary states. Interestingly, the enhancing effects of GH on thymulin seem to be mediated by insulinlike growth factor (IGF-1) since they can be abrogated with anti-IGF-1 or anti-IGF-l-receptor antibodies. The influence of PRL and GH on the thymic epithelium is pleiotropic: PRL enhances in vivo the expression of high-molecular-weight cytokeratins and stimulates in vitro TEC proliferation, an effect that is shared by GH and IGF-1.Differentiating T cells are also targets for the intrathymic action of PRL and GH. In vivo inoculation of a rat pituitary cell line into old rats results in restoration of the thymus, including differentiation of CD4-CD8- thymocytes into CD4+CD8+ cells. Furthermore, PRL may regulate the maintenance of thymocyte viability during the double-positive stage of thymocyte differentiation.Injections of GH into aging mice increase total thymocyte numbers and the percentage of CD3-bearing cells, as well as the Concanavalin-A mitogenic response and IL-6 production by thymocytes. Interestingly, similar findings are observed in animals treated with IGF-1. Lastly, the thymic hypoplasia observed in dwarf mice can be reversed with GH treatment.In keeping with the data summarized earlier is the detection of receptors for PRL and GH on both thymocytes and thymic epithelial cells. Importantly, recent studies indicate that both cell types can produce PRL and GH intrathymically. Similarly, production of IGF-1 and expression of a corresponding receptor has also been demonstrated.In conclusion, these data strongly indicate that the thymus is physiologically under control of pituitary hormones PRL and GH. In addition to the classical endocrine pathway, paracrine and autocrine circuits are probably implicated in such control.