The thymus is the central lymphoid structure where T-cell differentiation takes place, and a crucial organ for the maintenance of homeostasis in the immune system. Thymopoiesis includes intrathymic proliferation of T-cell precursors, selection and output of both self-tolerant and competent effector T cells, as well as of natural regulatory T cells (nTreg). In the crosstalk between the neuroendocrine and immune systems, peptide hormones have been more and more implicated in immunomodulation for the last thirty years. The somatotrope growth hormone (GH)/insulin-like growth factor- 1 (IGF-1) axis in particular has been repeatedly shown to play a major regulatory role upon thymus function and T-cell development. This review will focus on the important thymotropic properties of the somatotrope GH/IGF-1 axis, and will try to discriminate these properties in function of the endocrine or paracrine/autocrine pathways involved in their mediation. Most importantly, in light of an increasing number of recent studies, GH and IGF-1 now appear as novel therapeutic agents that could be used for enhancing thymopoiesis in different cases of immune deficiencies, including aging-related immune dysfunction.
Keywords: Thymus, growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factors (IGFs), HIV, growth hormone deficiency (GHD), Chagas disease
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