Immune-endocrine interactions in marsupials and monotremes
E. Peel1, K. Belov*
1Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
*Corresponding author at: R.M.C Gunn Building, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Regimental Dr, Camperdown, N.S.W 2006, Australia. E-mail addresses: (E. Peel), (K. Belov)
Interactions between the immune and endocrine systems are not well studied in marsupials and monotremes. One exception to this is the phenomenon of semelparity, which is well covered in the literature as this is an unusual reproductive strategy amongst mammals and is only observed in some dasyurid and didelphid marsupials. Thymus involution provides a direct link between the endocrine and immune systems and warrants further study in marsupials and monotremes. The thymus is a primary immune tissue which is essential for overall immune function. Whilst the organ is large in juvenile animals, it begins to involute around puberty due to the suppressive effects of sex steroids. Thymus involution has a significant effect on the immune system, as it signals the onset of immune aging and decline in function. The output of naïve T lymphocytes by the thymus decreases, increasing susceptibility of aged individuals to infection and cancers. Understanding the links between the immune and endocrine system in marsupials and monotremes may shed light on diseases such as devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) which threatens the future of the Tasmanian devil. We hypothesise that changes in sex hormones around puberty may drive changes in the immune system, such as thymus involution, which may make devils more susceptible to DFTD as they age. In addition, the Schwann cell origin of DFTD may enable tumours to respond to sex hormones, as occurs in similar cancers in humans.