Physiology and Immunology of the Thymus Gland

  • Milena Nasi
  • Marcello Pinti
  • Leonarda Troiano
  • Andrea Cossarizza


The thymus is a gland located in the upper anterior portion of the chest cavity just behind the sternum. Under the evolutionary pressure exerted by the emergence of adaptive immunity and its inherent risk to form receptors that recognize self molecules, this gland appeared about 500 million years ago as a novel structure that had the role of instructing T-cells in order to prevent autoimmunity and orchestrate self-tolerance. The thymus has thus become a crucial lymphoid organ in which cells arriving from the bone marrow undergo a finely tuned process of selection, based on the specificity of T-cell receptors (TCRs), and differentiate into mature T-cells. The development of thymocytes involves a stringent selection in which only 1–3% of these cells succeed in survival and can leave the gland to colonize the periphery and give origin to effective immune cells [1]–[3]. During the maturation in the thymus, T-cells are first positively selected for “usefulness” [positive selection, driven by the affinity of the clonotypic TCR for Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) molecules] and then negatively selected against autoreactivity (negative selection, driven by the recognition of self peptides on self MHC by the TCR, which triggers the process of cell death).


Treg Cell Thymic Epithelial Cell Thymic Hormone Thymic Microenvironment Thymosin Beta 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Milena Nasi
    • 1
  • Marcello Pinti
    • 1
  • Leonarda Troiano
    • 1
  • Andrea Cossarizza
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biomedical SciencesUniversity of Modena and Reggio EmiliaModenaItaly

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