The thymus gland, which is shaped like a pyramid, is a specialized organ of the human immune system. It is also one of the important glands in the human body. It is a pinkish gray colored organ that is situated in the upper thoracic region, under the sternum or the breast bone. The thymus is made up of two lobes, that are divided into lobules by a septum or wall. These lobules are called thymic lobules and are enclosed in a capsule. The thymus has two parts - the central medulla and the peripheral cortex. In newborn babies, this lymphoid is larger as compared to an adult. The thymus gland continues to grow till puberty and then it undergoes involution, which is a process where the thymus starts a reverse procedure and begins to shrink in size. The gland in an elderly individual becomes just a bit of adipose (or fat) and connective tissues.
Important Functions of the Thymus Gland
The thymus gland is very active, during the childhood years. It plays a crucial role in developing and improving a child's immunity system. The main function is to produce and process lymphocytes or T-cells (where 'T' stands for thymus derived). Lymphocytes are white blood cells (WBCs), which are also known as leukocytes. After the white blood cells mature, they leave the gland and get settled in the spleen and the lymph nodes, where a fresh batch of T-cells is produced. These white blood cells are the body's immunity system and protect the body by producing antibodies that stop the invasion of foreign agents, bacteria and viruses. These cells also ensure the proper functioning of the body system and look after the wear and tear of the organs. Another function is to prevent the abnormal growth of cells, that may lead to cancer. The T lymphocytes travel from the bone marrow to the thymus where they remain till they get activated. After maturity, the lymphocytes enter the blood stream from where they travel to other lymphatic organs and provide defense mechanism against diseases. The thymus gland also produces a hormone called thymosin, which stimulates the T-cells in the other lymphatic organs to mature. This gland also produces another hormone called thymopoietin, which is protein present in the mRNA (messenger RNA) and is encoded by the TMPO gene.
In some cases, the thymus gland tends to become under-active. The individual may have a weak immunity system and be prone to many infections and allergies. These infections can be chronic and may prolong for a long time. When there is a lack of T-cells in the body, it can lead to immunodeficiency diseases. The person suffering from immunodeficiency diseases may show symptoms like extreme sweating, puffiness or soreness of the throat, swelling in the glands and depression. Malnutrition and a deficiency of protein, from an early age, in the diet can lead to the slow or limited growth of the thymus, thus impairing the normal functioning of the lymphocytes. Thus ensure that your child eats a well-balanced meal and also has the right amount of essential nutrients, which can also be given in the form of supplements.
During neonatal and preadolescent stages, the thymus is large and is one of the mist active glands in the human body. But as the individual grows older, the thymus gland shrinks and is replaced by the fat (or adipose) tissue. To ensure the healthy functioning of this vital gland and prevent any disorders, a routine body analysis is essential.