Pyknotic nuclei, observed in the thymus of steroid-treated rats, are dense, homogeneous, intensely basophilic and Feulgen positive. Under the electron microscope, the image is that of a complete segregation of the chromatin from the nuclear sap producing a margin or crescent of condensed chromatin. Approximately 30% of all small thymocytes appeared to undergo this type of degeneration within 3–4 hr after administration of the synthetic corticosteroid, dexamethasone. At this time, pyknotic thymocytes were observed in clusters, probably as a result of the activity of dense reticular cells and macrophages. Topographical and experimental data suggest the existence of a select population of steroid-sensitive thymic cells. Furthermore, on the basis of thymidine-3H incorporation studies, it appears that the steroid-sensitive population of thymocytes does not correspond to "aged" cells. In addition, many plasma cells became pyknotic after the same steroid treatment, indicating an unexpected similarity between their nuclei and those of lymphocytes. Finally, steroid failed to induce pyknosis of thymocytes in a variety of in vitro experiments, suggesting that the in vivo effect of steroid is of an indirect nature. The results are discussed in terms of (a) the nature of the nuclear changes characterizing pyknosis, (b) the hypothetical mechanism whereby steroids trigger such changes, and (c) the population of cells susceptible to steroid-induced pyknosis.

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