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Adv Physiol Educ December 1, 2011; 35 (4): 445-53.

Visualizing and quantifying the suppressive effects of glucocorticoids on the tadpole immune system in vivo.

A challenging topic in undergraduate physiology courses is the complex interaction between the vertebrate endocrine system and the immune system. There are relatively few established and accessible laboratory exercises available to instructors to help their students gain a working understanding of these interactions. The present laboratory module was developed to show students how glucocorticoid receptor activity can be pharmacologically modulated in Xenopus laevis tadpoles and the resulting effects on thymus gland size visualized and quantified in vivo. After treating young tadpoles with a cortisol receptor agonist (dexamethasone) for 1 wk, students can easily visualize the suppressive effects of glucocorticoids on the intact thymus gland, which shrinks dramatically in size in response to this steroid hormone analog. However, the suppressive effect of dexamethasone is nullified in the presence of the glucocorticoid receptor antagonist RU-486, which powerfully illustrates the specific effects of glucocorticoid receptor inhibition on the immune system. Image analysis and statistics software are used to quantify the effects of glucocorticoid modulation on thymus size.

PubMed ID: 22139784
Article link: Adv Physiol Educ

Species referenced: Xenopus laevis
Genes referenced: nr3c1