Thymus transplantation

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Thymus transplantation

Thymus transplantation is a form of organ transplantation where the thymus is moved from one body to another.


Thymus transplantation can be used to treat infants with DiGeorge syndrome, which results in an absent or hypoplastic thymus, in turn causing problems with the immune system's T-cell mediated response. It is exclusively used in people with complete DiGeorge anomaly, which are entirely athymic. This subgroup represents less than 1% of DiGeorge syndrome patients.[1]

Nezelof syndrome is another thymus-related disease where it can be used.

Effects and prognosis[edit]

A study of 54 DiGeorge syndrome infants resulted in all tested subjects having developed polyclonal T-cell repertoires and proliferative responses to mitogens. The procedure was well tolerated and resulted in stable immunoreconstitution in these infants. It had a survival rate of 75%, having a follow-up as long as 13 years.[1]

Complications include an increased susceptibility to infections while the T cells have not yet developed, rashes and erythema.[1]

Graft-versus-host disease[edit]

Theoretically, thymus transplantation could cause two types of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD): First, it could cause a donor T cell-related GVHD, because of T cells from the donor that are present in the transplanted thymus that recognizes the recipient as foreign. Donor T cells can be detected in the recipient after transplantation, but there is no evidence of any donor T cell-related graft-versus-host disease.[1][2]

Second, a thymus transplantation can cause a non-donor T cell-related GVHD because the recipients thymocytes would use the donor thymus cells as models when going through the negative selection to recognize self-antigens, and could therefore still mistake own structures in the rest of the body for being non-self. This is a rather indirect GVHD because it is not directly cells in the graft itself that causes it, but cells in the graft that make the recipient's T cells act like donor T cells. It would also be of relatively late-onset because it requires the formation of new T cells. It can be seen as a multiple-organ autoimmunity in xenotransplantation experiments of the thymus between different species.[3] Autoimmune disease is a frequent complication after human allogeneic thymus transplantation, found in 42% of subjects over 1 year post transplantation.[4] However, this is partially explained by that the indication itself, that is, complete DiGeorge syndrome, increases the risk of autoimmune disease.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Markert ML, Devlin BH, Alexieff MJ, et al. (May 2007). "Review of 54 patients with complete DiGeorge anomaly enrolled in protocols for thymus transplantation: outcome of 44 consecutive transplants". Blood. 109 (10): 4539–47. doi:10.1182/blood-2006-10-048652. PMC 1885498. PMID 17284531.
  2. ^ Markert ML, Boeck A, Hale LP, et al. (October 1999). "Transplantation of thymus tissue in complete DiGeorge syndrome". N. Engl. J. Med. 341 (16): 1180–9. doi:10.1056/NEJM199910143411603. PMID 10523153.
  3. ^ Xia G, Goebels J, Rutgeerts O, Vandeputte M, Waer M (February 2001). "Transplantation tolerance and autoimmunity after xenogeneic thymus transplantation". J. Immunol. 166 (3): 1843–54. doi:10.4049/jimmunol.166.3.1843. PMID 11160231.
  4. ^ Thymus Transplantation Book Thymus Gland Pathology Publisher Springer Milan DOI 10.1007/978-88-470-0828-1 Copyright 2008 ISBN 978-88-470-0827-4 (Print) 978-88-470-0828-1 (Online) DOI 10.1007/978-88-470-0828-1_30 Pages 255-267