Effects of nicotine exposure on T cell development in fetal thymus organ culture: Arrest of T cell maturation

Aaron J. Middlebrook, Cherie Martina, Yung Chang, Ronald J. Lukas, Dominick DeLuca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


There is evidence for both physiological functions of the natural neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, and pharmacological actions of the plant alkaloid, nicotine, on the development and function of the immune system. The effects of continuous exposure to nicotine over a 12-day course of fetal thymus organ culture (FTOC) were studied, and thymocytes were analyzed by flow cytometry. In the presence of very low concentrations of nicotine many more immature T cells (defined by low or negative TCR expression) and fewer mature T cells (intermediate or high expression of TCR) were produced. In addition, the numbers of cells expressing CD69 and, to a lesser extent, CD95 (Fas) were increased. These effects took place when fetal thymus lobes from younger (13-14 days gestation) pups were used for FTOC. If FTOC were set up using tissue from older (15-16 days gestation pups), nicotine had little effect, suggesting that it may act only on immature T cell precursors. Consistent with an increase in immature cells, the expression of recombinase-activating genes was found to be elevated. Nicotine effects were partially blocked by the simultaneous addition of the nicotinic antagonist d-tubocurarine. Furthermore, d-tubocurarine alone blocked the development of both immature and mature murine thymocytes, suggesting the presence of an endogenous ligand that may engage nicotinic acetylcholine receptors on developing thymocytes and influence the course of normal thymic ontogeny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2915-2924
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 15 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


Dive into the research topics of 'Effects of nicotine exposure on T cell development in fetal thymus organ culture: Arrest of T cell maturation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this