Sex steroid ablation: an immunoregenerative strategy for immunocompromised patients

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Age-related decline in thymic function is a well-described process that results in reduced T-cell development and thymic output of new naïve T cells. Thymic involution leads to reduced response to vaccines and new pathogens in otherwise healthy individuals; however, reduced thymic function is particularly detrimental in clinical scenarios where the immune system is profoundly depleted such as after chemotherapy, radiotherapy, infection and shock. Poor thymic function and restoration of immune competence has been correlated with an increased risk of opportunistic infections, tumor relapse and autoimmunity. Apart from their primary role in sex dimorphism, sex steroid levels profoundly affect the immune system in general and, in fact, age-related thymic involution has been at least partially attributed to the increase in sex steroids at puberty. Subsequently it has been demonstrated that the removal of sex steroids, or sex steroid ablation (SSA), triggers physiologic changes that ultimately lead to thymic re-growth and improved T-cell reconstitution in settings of hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). Although the cellular and molecular process underlying these regenerative effects are still poorly understood, SSA clearly represents an attractive therapeutic approach to enhance thymic function and restore immune competence in immunodeficient individuals.

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