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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Apr 25, 1995; 92(9): 3707–3711.

In vivo estimates of division and death rates of human T lymphocytes.


We present data on the decay, after radiotherapy, of naive and memory human T lymphocytes with stable chromosome damage. These data are analyzed in conjunction with existing data on the decay of naive and memory T lymphocytes with unstable chromosome damage and older data on unsorted lymphocytes. The analyses yield in vivo estimates for some life-history parameters of human T lymphocytes. Best estimates of proliferation rates have naive lymphocytes dividing once every 3.5 years and memory lymphocytes dividing once every 22 weeks. It appears that memory lymphocytes can revert to the naive phenotype, but only, on average, after 3.5 years in the memory class. The lymphocytes with stable chromosome damage decay very slowly, yielding surprisingly low estimates of their death rate. The estimated parameters are used in a simple mathematical model of the population dynamics of undamaged naive and memory lymphocytes. We use this model to illustrate that it is possible for the unprimed subset of a constantly stimulated clone to stay small, even when there is a large population of specific primed cells reverting to the unprimed state.

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