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Prenatal and childhood exposures are associated with thymulin concentrations in young adolescent children in rural Nepal

  • Amanda C. Palmer (a1), Kerry J. Schulze (a1), Subarna K. Khatry (a1) (a2) (a3) and Keith P. West (a1)


The thymus undergoes a critical period of growth and development early in gestation and, by mid-gestation, immature thymocytes are subject to positive and negative selection. Exposure to undernutrition during these periods may permanently affect phenotype. We measured thymulin concentrations, as a proxy for thymic size and function, in children (n = 290; aged 9–13 years) born to participants in a cluster-randomized trial of maternal vitamin A or β-carotene supplementation in rural Nepal (1994–1997). The geometric mean (95% confidence interval) thymulin concentration was 1.37 ng/ml (1.27, 1.47). A multivariate model of early-life exposures revealed a positive association with gestational age at delivery (β = 0.02; P = 0.05) and higher concentrations among children born to β-carotene-supplemented mothers (β = 0.19; P < 0.05). At ∼9–12 years of age, thymulin was positively associated with all anthropometric measures, with height retained in our multivariate model (β = 0.02; P < 0.001). There was significant seasonal variation: concentrations tended to be lower pre-monsoon (β = −0.13; P = 0.15), during the monsoon (β = −0.22; P = 0.04), and pre-harvest (β = −0.34; P = 0.01), relative to the post-harvest season. All early-life associations, except supplementation, were mediated in part by nutritional status at follow-up. Our findings underscore the known sensitivity of the thymus to nutrition, including potentially lasting effects of early nutritional exposures. The relevance of these findings to later disease risk remains to be explored, particularly given the role of thymulin in the neuroendocrine regulation of inflammation.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Amanda C. Palmer, Department of International Health, Center for Human Nutrition, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA. Email:


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Prenatal and childhood exposures are associated with thymulin concentrations in young adolescent children in rural Nepal

  • Amanda C. Palmer (a1), Kerry J. Schulze (a1), Subarna K. Khatry (a1) (a2) (a3) and Keith P. West (a1)


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