Rebuilding the Thymus

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Science  06 Apr 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6077, pp. 40-41
DOI: 10.1126/science.1221677

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The thymus is the essential generative organ for T cell production, conserved from cartilaginous fish to humans (1). It is periodically colonized by lymphoid precursor cells from the blood, and after a period of maturation, T cells emerge bearing specific T cell receptors (2). This constitutes an arm of the adaptive immune system that provides many different modalities of protection. But many conditions affect thymus function, including therapeutic treatments such as chemotherapy and irradiation, with dire consequences for host protection (3). On page 91 of this issue, Dudakov et al. (4) demonstrate a surprising role for a subset of innate lymphoid cells in regenerating the thymus. This has implications for restoring and maintaining normal T cell immunity during conditions when thymus function is diminished.