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Mol Biosyst. 2010 Oct;6(10):1983-92. doi: 10.1039/c004635c. Epub 2010 Aug 5.

Complex patterns of gene expression in human T cells during in vivo aging.

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Department of Physics, University of Bologna, Viale Berti Pichat 6/2, 40127 Bologna, Italy.


Human aging is associated with complex alterations that contribute to remodelling of physiological processes and ultimately manifests in loss of tissue/organ function. Peripheral blood T cells do not escape this phenomenon and undergo profound remodelling with aging. Thus, investigating the effects of aging on T cells transcriptomics and identifying the underlying regulatory mechanisms can be of extreme importance to understand the aging process in the Immune System (IS). To this aim, we performed an analysis of gene expression data of T cells collected from peripheral blood of 25 healthy human donors of different age from 25 to more than 95 years, in order to characterize changes that occur throughout the entire adult lifespan. By means of microarray analysis, we observed large groups of genes exhibiting non-monotonic expression patterns over time: such behaviour, that could not be observed in typical "two-group" experiments (e.g. young vs. old people) highlights similarities in gene expression profiles of young and "successfully aged" individuals. Genes whose expression profiles change during lifespan were grouped into three main patterns (eigenmodes) to which different biological functions were significantly associated. The analysis of KEGG pathways to which these genes belong indicated that the biological processes altered in T cell aging are not only those typically associated with immune cells (Jak-STAT signalling, T cell receptor signalling, cytokine-cytokine receptor interactions, etc.) but also some not specific of immune cells, such as long-term depression, PPAR and mTOR signalling, glucose and glutathione metabolism, suggesting that T cell aging may be representative of a more generalised aging phenomenon. Thus, the T cell may represent a useful cellular model to study organismal aging. We further searched for over-represented transcription factor binding sites (TFBSs) in the promoter regions of genes clustered by similarity of their age-related patterns to evidence possible co-regulation. A comparison between over-representation of TFBSs and the time course of the corresponding transcription factor (TF) expression levels revealed that a restricted group of TFs may play a central role in driving aging-specific changes in gene expression of T cells.

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