The thymus is a highly specialized organ for T cell receptor (TCR) rearrangement and selection mechanisms that ensure the formation of functional and self-tolerant cells. Little is known about how peripheral blood assessment of thymic function reflects thymus activity during infancy. We compared thymic function-related markers in the thymus with those in peripheral blood in order to check their correlations. We concomitantly blood samples from immunocompetent infants who underwent cardiac surgery that involved thymectomy. The studied thymic markers included TCR excision circles (TRECs), four different TCRD (TCR delta chain) gene rearrangements, the TCR repertoire, regulatory T cells (Tregs, defined as the CD4+CD25+FOXP3+ cell population) and real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RQ-PCR) mRNA expression of forkhead box P3 (FOXP3). Twenty patients were enrolled in this study. Their mean age at the time of the surgery was 3 months/5 days ± 3 months/18 days. There was a significant correlation between thymic and peripheral blood levels of TREC, all four TCRD gene rearrangements and the amount of Tregs. The levels of these parameters were significantly higher in the thymus than those detected in the peripheral blood. The TCR repertoire distribution in both samples was similar. FOXP3 mRNA levels in the thymus and peripheral blood correlated well. Our findings demonstrated a strong and significant correlation between peripheral blood and intra-thymic activity parameters during infancy. Assessment of these parameters in peripheral blood can be used to accurately estimate different intra-thymic capacities for assessing T cell function in health and disease.
- Regulatory T cells (Tregs)
- T cell receptor (TCR)
- T cell receptor excision circles (TRECs)