Pyramid-shaped lymphoid organ (see lymphoid tissue) between the breastbone and the heart. Starting at puberty, it shrinks slowly. It has no lymphatic vessels draining into it and does not filter lymph; instead, stem cells in its outer cortex develop into different kinds of T cells (see lymphocytes). Some migrate to the inner medulla and enter the bloodstream; those that do not may be destroyed to prevent autoimmune reactions. This process is most active during infancy. If a newborn's thymus is removed, not enough T cells are produced, the spleen and lymph nodes have little tissue, and the immune system fails, causing a gradual, fatal wasting disease. Thymus removal in adults has little effect.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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