Neuroimmunomodulation and Aging: A Role for Transferrin and the Hypothalamus/Thymus Axis
Vladimir A. Lesnikov,
Marina P. Lesnikova,
H. Joachim Deeg.
Advanced age is associated with an increased incidence of immune and degenerative disorders, mediated by
metabolic changes, dysregulation of proinflammatory signals, and apoptosis. Concurrently, there is a progressive decline
in self-recognition. Investigations on biologic functions of transferrin (Tf) other than iron transport showed that Tf has a
profound cytoprotective (anti-apoptotic) effect on lympho-hematopoietic cells and the thymus, and interferes with stressinduced
signals. Tf protects hepatocytes against Fas-induced cell death by reducing BID cleavage, inhibiting caspase-3
and -9 activation and up-regulating survival signals such as Bcl-xL. The involvement in the regulation of alloreactivity
and apoptosis suggests that Tf participates in the maintenance of “self-identity” mechanisms, which are tightly linked to
the capacity of the immune system to recognize and react against any noxious agent. Some of the disorders associated
with aging are thought to be related to thymic involution, reflecting alterations in the interplay of neural, endocrine and
immune factors. We established a murine model of thymic involution induced by stereotactically placed electrolytic lesions
in the anterior hypothalamic area. The events observed in this model mimic those observed during senescence including
thymus involution, i.e. enhanced glucocorticoid reaction to distress, and obesity. The described properties of Tf
can be exploited to modify immune responses and provide cytoprotection against pro-apoptotic and cytotoxic signals
when neuroimmunomodulatory mechanisms are impaired, as is the case with aging.
Keywords: Aging, apoptosis, cytoprotection, hypothalamus, neuroimmunomodulation, thymus transferrin.
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