The Thymus from Antiquity to the Present Day: the History of a Mysterious Gland

  • Corrado Lavini


The thymus is a lymphatic organ situated in the thorax, known since the 1st century AD. The officinal plant of the same name had been known for several centuries, since the time of the ancient Egyptians who, as it seems, appreciated its therapeutical properties. The name of the gland seems to come from the thyme plant, possibly due to the resemblance — fairly vague, to tell the truth — of the lobes of the gland to the plant leaves (Fig. 1.1).


Thymus Gland Severe Combine Immunodeficiency Disease Microscopic Anatomy Lymphatic Organ Malignant Thymoma 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Jacobs MT, Frush DP, Donnelly LF (1999) The right place at the wrong time: Historical perspective of the relation of the thymus gland and pediatric radiology. Radiology 210:11–16PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Miller JFAP (2002) The discovery of thymus function and of thymus-derived lymphocytes. Immunol Rev 185:7–14PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Kirschner PA (2000) The history of surgery of the thymus gland. Chest Surg Clin N Am 10:153–165PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Mazzini I (2001) Rufo di Efeso. Denominazioni delle parti del corpo. Medicina&Storia 2:81–112Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Penso G (1985) La medicina romana. Ciba-Geigy Edizioni, Roma, p 207Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Galen (1998) On the usefulness of the parts of the body. May MT (ed), Cornell University Press Ithaca, New York, pp 283–286Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Singer CS (1956) Galen on anatomical procedures. Oxford University Press, London, p 250Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    De Santo NG, Bisaccia C, De Santo LS et al (1999) Berengario da Carpi. Am J Nephrol 19:199–212PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Jacopo Berengario da Carpi (1521) Commentaria super Anatomia Mundini. BolognaGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Jacopo Berengario da Carpi (1535) Isagogae breves perlucidae ac uberrime in anatomiam humani corporis. VeneziaGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Crotti A (1922) The thymus gland. In: Crotti A (ed) Thyroid and thymus. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia, pp 607–693Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Vesalius A (1950) De humani corporis fabrica. In: Sanders JB, O’Malley CD (eds) Illustrations from the works of Andrea Vesalius of Brussels, book 6. The World Publishing Co., Cleveland and New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Paré Ambroise (1585) Les oeuvres d’Ambroise Paré, Conseiller et Premier Chirurgien du Roy, divisées in 28 livres avec les figures et portraicts, tant de l’anatomie que des instruments de chirurgie, et de plusieurs monsters, revues et augmenteés par l’autheur. Gabriel Buon, ParisGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Plater F (1925) In: Ruräh J (ed) Pediatrics of the past. Paul B Hoeber Inc, New York, pp 237–239Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Hewson W (1777) Experimental enquires III. In: Cadell T (ed) Experimental enquires into the properties of the blood. Longman, London, pp 1–223Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Gulliver G (1846) The works of William Hewson. Sydenham Society, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Doyle D (2006) William Hewson (1739–1974): The father of haematology. Br J Haematol 133:375–381PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Cooper AP (1833) The anatomy of the thymus gland. Longmand, Rees, Orme, Green & Brown, London, pp 1–48Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Simon J (1845) An essay on the physiology of the thymus gland. Renshaw, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Hassall AH, Vanarsdale H (1846) Illustrations of the microscopic anatomy of the human body in health and disease. In: Hassall AH (ed) Microscopic anatomy of the human body in health and disease. Wood, London, pp 1–79Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Watanabe N, Wang YH, Lee HK et al (2005) Hassall corpuscles instruct dendritic cells to induce CD4+ CD25+ regulatory T cells in human thymus. Nature 436:1181–1185PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Kopp JK (1830) Denkwürdigkeiten in der ärztlichen praxis. Hermann, FrankfurtGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Debré R, Lelong M (1963) Pediatria. Intermedical S.a.r.l., Roma, p 431Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Paltauf A (1889) ùber die beziehung der thymus zum plötzlichen tod. Wien Klin Wochenschr 3:877–881Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Paltauf A (1890) Über plötzlichen tod. Wien Klin Wochenschr 3:172–175Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Rehn L (1906) Compression from the thymus gland and resultant death. Ann Surg 44:760–768Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Musser JH, Kelly AOJ (eds) (1912) A handbook of practical treatment. Saunders, Philadelphia, p 215Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Gofman JW (1996) Preventing breast cancer, 2nd edn. Committee on nuclear responsibility, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Friedländer A (1907) Status lymphaticus and enlargement of the thymus; with report of a case successfully treated by the X-ray. Arch Pediatr 24:490–501Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Leonidas JC (1998) The thymus: From past misconception to present recognition. Pediatr Radiol 28:275–282PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Moncrieff A (1937) Enlargement of the thymus in infants with special reference to clinical evidence of so-called status thymo-lymphaticus. Proc R Soc Med 31:537–544Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Oestreich AE, William H (1995) Crane of Cincinnati and the first irradiation of the pediatric thymus, 1905. AJR 165:1064–1065PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Caffey J (1945) The mediastinum. In: Caffey J (ed) Pediatric X-ray diagnosis. Year Book, Chicago, pp 344–345Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Oppenheim H (1899) Weiterer Beitrag zur Lehre von den Acuten Nicht-Eitrigen Encephalitis und der Polioencephalomyelitis. Deutsche Zeitschr Nervenheil Kande 15:1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Beard J (1900) The source of leucocytes and the true function of the thymus. Anat Anz 18:550–560Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Hughes T (2005) The early history of myasthenia gravis. Neuromuscul Disord 15:878–886PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Kattach H, Anastasiadis K, Cleuziou G et al (2006) Transsternal thymectomy for myasthenia gravis: Surgical outcome. Ann Thorac Surg 81:305–308PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Kirschner PA (1987) Alfred Blalock and thymectomy for myasthenia gravis. Ann Thorac Surg 43:348–349PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Gracey DR, Divertie MB, Howard FM Jr et al (1984) Postoperative respiratory care after transsternal thymectomy in myasthenia gravis. A 3-year experience in 53 patients. Chest 86:67–71PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Landreneau RJ, Dowling RD, Castillo WM (1992) Thoracoscopic resection of an anterior mediastinal tumor. Ann Thorac Surg 54:142PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Sugarbaker DJ (1993) Thoracoscopy in the management of anterior mediastinal masses. Ann Thorac Surg 56:653–656PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Yoshino I, Hashizume M, Shimada M et al (2001) Thoracoscopic thymomectomy with the Da Vinci computerenhanced surgical system. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 122:783–785PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    August CS, Rosen FS, Filler RM et al (1968) Implantation of a foetal thymus restoring immunological competence in a patient with thymic aplasia (DiGeorge’s) Lancet 2:1210PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Cleveland WW, Fogel BJ, Brown WT et al (1968) Foetal thymic transplant in a case of DiGeorge’s syndrome. Lancet 2:1211PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Hong R, Santosham M, Schulte-Wissermann H et al (1976) Reconstitution of B and T lymphocyte function in severe combined immunodeficiency disease after transplantation with thymic epithelium. Lancet 2:1270PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Hadden JW (1998) Thymic endocrinology. Ann N Y Acad Sci 840:352–358PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Corrado Lavini
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of General Surgery and Surgical Specialities Division of Thoracic SurgeryUniversity of Modena and Reggio Emilia General HospitalModenaItaly

Personalised recommendations