The thymus is very sensitive to early environmental factors, first of all early life nutrition.
The developmental programming of the immune system depends largely on maternal nutrition during pregnancy. Once impaired by early life malnutrition, the altered immune system cannot assure its main function: anti-microbial defense. In parallel, the thymus is also the primary organ assuring the development of central tolerance, which serves to prevent autoimmune reactivity of T cells.
The immune system is also implicated in the control of various non communicable diseases (NCDs; i.e. inflammatory and metabolic diseases, cancers, autoimmune disorders).
In a rat model of intrauterine growth retardation and postanatal transient overfeeding, we aim at understanding the structural, cellular, molecular and epigenetic mechanisms of thymic alterations related to early malnutrition.
Further research would decipher the association of early impaired immune functions and occurrence of NCDs later in life. The understanding of such mechanisms would offer opportunities to identify and to test potential epigenetic reversing agents to prevent or delay the occurence of some NCDs.