A Proposed Link Between Acute Thymic Involution and Late Adverse Effects of Chemotherapy

Maria K. Lagou, Dimitra P. Anastasiadou, George S. Karagiannis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Epidemiologic data suggest that cancer survivors tend to develop a protuberant number of adverse late effects, including second primary malignancies (SPM), as a result of cytotoxic chemotherapy. Besides the genotoxic potential of these drugs that directly inflict mutational burden on genomic DNA, the precise mechanisms contributing to SPM development are poorly understood. Cancer is nowadays perceived as a complex process that goes beyond the concept of genetic disease and includes tumor cell interactions with complex stromal and immune cell microenvironments. The cancer immunoediting theory offers an explanation for the development of nascent neoplastic cells. Briefly, the theory suggests that newly emerging tumor cells are mostly eliminated by an effective tissue immunosurveillance, but certain tumor variants may occasionally escape innate and adaptive mechanisms of immunological destruction, entering an equilibrium phase, where immunologic tumor cell death “equals” new tumor cell birth. Subsequent microenvironmental pressures and accumulation of helpful mutations in certain variants may lead to escape from the equilibrium phase, and eventually cause an overt neoplasm. Cancer immunoediting functions as a dedicated sentinel under the auspice of a highly competent immune system. This perspective offers the fresh insight that chemotherapy-induced thymic involution, which is characterized by the extensive obliteration of the sensitive thymic epithelial cell (TEC) compartment, can cause long-term defects in thymopoiesis and in establishment of diverse T cell receptor repertoires and peripheral T cell pools of cancer survivors. Such delayed recovery of T cell adaptive immunity may result in prolonged hijacking of the cancer immunoediting mechanisms, and lead to development of persistent and mortal infections, inflammatory disorders, organ-specific autoimmunity lesions, and SPMs. Acknowledging that chemotherapy-induced thymic involution is a potential risk factor for the emergence of SPM demarcates new avenues for the rationalized development of pharmacologic interventions to promote thymic regeneration in patients receiving cytoreductive chemotherapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number933547
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022


  • T cell
  • cancer immunoediting theory
  • chemotherapy
  • immune surveillance
  • second primary malignacies
  • thymic involution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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