Congenital Athymia: Genetic Etiologies, Clinical Manifestations, Diagnosis, and Treatment.

Article Details


Collins C, Sharpe E, Silber A, Kulke S, Hsieh EWY

Congenital Athymia: Genetic Etiologies, Clinical Manifestations, Diagnosis, and Treatment.

J Clin Immunol. 2021 Jul;41(5):881-895. doi: 10.1007/s10875-021-01059-7. Epub 2021 May 13.

PubMed ID
33987750 [ View in PubMed

Congenital athymia is an ultra-rare disease characterized by the absence of a functioning thymus. It is associated with several genetic and syndromic disorders including FOXN1 deficiency, 22q11.2 deletion, CHARGE Syndrome (Coloboma, Heart defects, Atresia of the nasal choanae, Retardation of growth and development, Genitourinary anomalies, and Ear anomalies), and Complete DiGeorge Syndrome. Congenital athymia can result from defects in genes that impact thymic organ development such as FOXN1 and PAX1 or from genes that are involved in development of the entire midline region, such as TBX1 within the 22q11.2 region, CHD7, and FOXI3. Patients with congenital athymia have profound immunodeficiency, increased susceptibility to infections, and frequently, autologous graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Athymic patients often present with absent T cells but normal numbers of B cells and Natural Killer cells (T(-)B(+)NK(+)), similar to a phenotype of severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID); these patients may require additional steps to confirm the diagnosis if no known genetic cause of athymia is identified. However, distinguishing athymia from SCID is crucial, as treatments differ for these conditions. Cultured thymus tissue is being investigated as a treatment for congenital athymia. Here, we review what is known about the epidemiology, underlying etiologies, clinical manifestations, and treatments for congenital athymia.

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