The thymus in acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Comparison with other types of immunodeficiency diseases, and presence of components of human immunodeficiency virus type 1

H. J. Schuurman, W. J. Krone, R. Broekhuizen, J. van Baarlen, P. van Veen, A. L. Golstein, J. Huber, J. Goudsmit

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The authors studied thymus specimens taken at autopsy from eight acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) patients and compared these with those taken from four patients with congenital immunodeficiency (unrelated to an intrinsic thymus defect) and seven patients after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation. In all cases, histology showed a severely involuted architecture, compatible with a debilitating disease before death. There were no major differences between thymus tissue in AIDS patients and in the other patients studied. This argues against the claim expressed in the literature that the epithelial microenvironment incurs particular HIV-1-induced injury in AIDS. This conclusion is substantiated by immunohistochemistry for HIV-1 gag and env proteins, and by hybridohistochemistry for gag/pol and env mRNA of HIV-1. Positive cells were observed only in low numbers, both inside the epithelial parenchyma and in the (expanded) perivascular areas. An interesting finding was the labeling of subcapsular/medullary epithelium in normal uninvoluted thymus by a number of antibodies to HIV-1 gag p17 and p24 proteins. Compatible with this labeling was the staining of epithelial stalks in hyperinvoluted thymuses irrespective of disease category. The previously reported cross-reactivity between HIV-1 core protein and thymosin alpha 1 cannot fully explain this observation, because the epithelium in the hyperinvoluted state is negative for thymosin alpha 1. This study confirms and extends previous reports on the endogenous presence of epitopes of retroviral antigens in thymic epithelium
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1329-1338
JournalAmerican Journal of Pathology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1989

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