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Clin Exp Immunol. 2005 Jun;140(3):540-6.

The number of human peripheral blood CD4+ CD25high regulatory T cells increases with age.

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  • 1Cancer Research UK Institute for Cancer Studies, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, UK.


Ageing is associated with evidence of immune deficiency and dysregulation. Key changes in the immune system with ageing include a progressive reduction in naive T cell output associated with thymic involution and peripheral expansion of oligoclonal memory T cells. These features are associated with evidence of impaired immune responsiveness both in vitro and in vivo, termed immune senescence. CD4+ CD25+ T cells have recently been recognized as mediators of peripheral immune regulation and play a role in the control of autoimmune and pathogen-specific immune responses. The significance of CD4+ CD25+ regulatory T cells in the context of immunosenescence is not known. We have investigated the number, phenotype and function of CD4+ CD25+ T cells in healthy volunteers over a wide age range. We demonstrate that the number of CD4+ CD25+ and CD4+ CD25high T cells in healthy volunteers increases with age. In both age groups CD4+ CD25+ T cells showed a phenotype consistent with that described for regulatory T cells. Further analysis of CD4+ CD25high T cells in young and elderly donors showed equivalent expression of intracellular CTLA-4 and surface expression of activation markers. In vitro, functional titration assays of CD4+ CD25high T cells demonstrated equivalent regulatory function in both young and elderly donors, with suppression of proliferation and cytokine production in response to polyclonal T cell stimulation. These observations demonstrate an increase in peripheral blood CD4+ CD25high regulatory T cells associated with ageing. The relevance of these expanded cells in relation to the immune senescence seen in the elderly as yet remains unclear.

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