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Developmental Immunology
Volume 8 (2001), Issue 2, Pages 95-106

Gender-Related Differences in the Rates of Age Associated Thymic Atrophy

Department of Immunology Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, 369 Fulham Road, London SW10 9NH, UK

Copyright © 2001 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Age associated thymic atrophy has been shown to be linked to problems with rearrangement of the β chain of the T cell receptor (TCR) in male mice during the early phases of the intrathymic T cell developmental pathway. In this study, thymic atrophy in female mice was found to occur at a different rate than in male mice. At 9 months of age there was a significantly greater number of cells in the thymus of female mice compared with male mice, with the major difference found in the CD4+CD8+ populations. The thymii of female mice at 9 months of age contained double the number of these cells compared with male mice. Analysis of the CD4+CD8+ cells at 9 months of age demonstrated increased numbers of cells expressing higher levels of CD3 in females compared with males indicating that in females more of these cells were producing successful αβTCR pairings. In F5 transgenic mice comparison of the CD4+CD8+ population revealed no significant difference in their absolute numbers at 9 months of age. These results indicate that the gender differences at this time point were due to fewer permitted divisions prior to the expression of a selectable TCR α chain within the CD4+CD8+ populations in male compared with female mice. This gender difference was not due to the action of testosterone and unlikely to be due to differences in the level of oestrogen. The potential mechanisms of this difference may be related to a regulatory feedback of peripheral T cells on the developing thymocyte populations. Such age related changes in the numbers of cells within distinct thymic subpopulations leads to the possibility that the potential repertoire in females is greater than in males later in life.