Estrogen blocks early T cell development in the thymus

Document Type


Peer Reviewed


Publication Date


NLM Title Abbreviation

Am J Reprod Immunol

Journal/Book/Conference Title

American journal of reproductive immunology (New York, N.Y.: 1989)

PubMed ID


Start Page


End Page



PROBLEM: Pregnancy and estrogen are known to suppress B lymphopoiesis as well as lead to thymic involution in the mouse. Additionally, estrogen deficiency by oophorectomy reportedly causes a selective increase in the B220+ B cells in the murine bone marrow. The purpose of this study was to determine if estrogens played a regulatory role in T cell development. METHODS: The first experimental group consisted of 5-6-week-old Balb/c mice that received subcutaneous pellets of placebo, estriol, estradiol, or progesterone. The thymus glands were examined 2-4 weeks after treatment. The second group consisted of 6-week-old Balb/c mice who underwent either bilateral oophorectomy or a sham procedure. Two weeks after the surgery, extensive phenotypic characterization of the thymus and spleen cells was performed by flow cytometry using monoclonal antibodies to surface markers of T cell subsets. RESULTS: Estrogen treatment causes a dramatic reduction of thymic size and cellularity. All defined T cell subsets of CD4 and CD8 were reduced, with a disproportionate loss of CD4+CD8+ double positive cells. Examination of the triple negative (CD3-CD4-CD8-) subset revealed a striking loss of TN developmental progression of the early precursor cells. Based on the expression of CD44 (pgp-1) and CD25 (IL-2R alpha) markers, the TN thymic compartment was composed almost entirely of the earliest population (CD44+, CD25-), with the remaining maturational stages (CD44+, CD25+; CD44-, CD25+; CD44-, CD25-) depleted. In contrast, all T cell developmental stages in the thymus were found to be in normal proportions in the oophorectomized mice, with no differences in the splenic T and B cell subsets. CONCLUSIONS: The study demonstrates that estrogen but not progesterone blocks T cell development in the thymus. However, contrary to our expectation, estrogen deprivation by oophorectomy does not enhance T cell development.


Animals, Cell Division/drug effects, Estrogens/physiology, Female, Flow Cytometry, Mice, Mice, Inbred BALB C, Organ Size/drug effects, Ovariectomy, Progesterone/pharmacology, T-Lymphocyte Subsets/cytology, T-Lymphocytes/cytology, Thymus Gland/anatomy & histology/cytology, Time Factors

Published Article/Book Citation

American journal of reproductive immunology (New York, N.Y.: 1989), 36:5 (1996) pp.269-277.

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