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Int Immunol. 2008 Mar;20(3):375-83. doi: 10.1093/intimm/dxm151. Epub 2008 Jan 14.

Accelerated age-dependent transition of human regulatory T cells to effector memory phenotype.

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Discipline of Paediatrics, Nepean Clinical School, University of Sydney, Penrith 2751, New South Wales, Australia.


We and others recently described a method for isolating viable forkhead boxp3 (FoxP3(+)) T regulatory cells (Tregs) by means of the surface phenotype CD4(+)CD127(lo)CD25(+). In this study, we used the new strategy to measure Treg numbers, phenotype and function at different ages. Mean percentages of CD4(+)CD127(lo)CD25(+) Tregs increased only slightly throughout life, from 6.10% in cord blood to 7.22% in PBMC from adults between 20 and 25 years and 7.50% in PBMC from adults over the age of 60. In all age groups, a higher proportion of Tregs had acquired a CD45RA(-) memory phenotype compared with CD4(+)Foxp3(-) conventional T cells. This increase was entirely attributable to increased Tregs with an effector memory phenotype, whereas central memory phenotype cells were comparably represented within the Treg and conventional CD4(+) T-cell populations. Expression of CD95 also differed between Tregs and conventional CD4(+) T cells at all ages. However there was no difference in the suppressive capacity of the different naive and memory Treg subsets. These results suggest that, compared with their conventional CD4(+) T-cell counterparts, Tregs undergo preferential differentiation from a naive to an effector memory phenotype, driven by their specificity for self- rather than foreign antigen. However, number and function are remarkably stable throughout life.

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