Athens, Ga. New research, just published by researchers from the University of Georgia, provides the first evidence that a key gene may be crucial to maintaining the production of the thymus and its disease-fighting T-cells after an animal's birth.
The discovery could help scientists find out how to turn the thymus back on so it could produce T-cells long after it normally shuts down most of its function, which, for humans, occurs by early adulthood. If the finding leads to further ways to manipulate the gene, the result could be a new avenue for the body to fight disease more effectively as the body ages.
The research was just published in the online edition of the journal Blood, a publication of the American Society of Hematology.
"Such things as infectious diseases, inflammation and heart problems are all related to immune response," said Nancy Manley, an associate professor of genetics and chair of UGA's Interdepartmental Developmental Biology Group. "You don't have to think far to see how understanding the effect of this gene could affect the quality of life for older people and others as well."
Other authors of the paper, beside Manley, are doctoral graduate student Lizhen Chen and assistant research scientist Shiyun Xiao, also of the University of Georgia.
The thymus is an organ located in the upper part of the human chest cavity, behind the sternum. This organ is the location where important systemic infection fighters called T-cells develop. Over the past two decades, T-cell counts have become part of everyday dialogue due to their importance in monitoring HIV/AIDS and other disorders.
The thymus slowly begins to shut down early in life and becomes largely inactive by early adulthood. Still, that's fine for most people, since an entire lifetime supply of T-cells is produced in that time. But, for some people, the loss of irreplaceable T-cells through disease can lead to chronic illnesses a
|Contact: Nancy Manley|
University of Georgia