Effects of thymectomy

In some species, e.g. humans and sheep, the thymus develops early in ontogeny and releases substantial numbers of T cells before birth. In these species removing the thymus at birth causes only a mild decline in T cell numbers by the time of maturity. In other species, e.g. mice, the thymus develops late in ontogeny and does not produce mature T cells until just before birth. Neonatal thymectomy of mice thus precludes the formation of peripheral T cells and leads to a long-lasting state of profound T cell deficiency. Unless maintained in a pathogen-free environment, neonatally thymectomized mice fail to thrive and develop chronic infections associated with marked weight loss (runting) and death. This syndrome can be prevented by injecting the hosts with mature T cells taken from normal syngeneic- donors.

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