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Subpopulation analysis of human granular lymphocytes: associations with age, gender and cytotoxic activity.


Levels of human blood granular lymphocyte subpopulations were enumerated in 105 healthy donors ranging in age from 0 to 79 years. Using double-label immunofluorescence, subpopulations of granular lymphocytes were enumerated as follows: Leu7+Leu2+, Leu7+Leu3+, Leu7+11-, Leu7+77+ and Leu7-Leu11+. The proportion of cells with granular lymphocyte morphology was determined by Giemsa staining. Natural killer (NK) cell activity against K-562 cells and lymphokine-activated killer activity against non-cultured melanoma cells were examined in parallel. Levels of total Leu7+ and Leu11+ cells increased with age (p = 0.0001) and were higher in males than females (p = 0.001). The total number of cells with granular lymphocyte morphology had an age-related increase (p = 0.001), but were not significantly higher in males than in females (p = 0.07). There was no selective increase in one granular lymphocyte subpopulation versus another since the Leu7+Leu11- (p = 0.0001), the Leu7+Leu11+ (p = 0.0001), the Leu7+Leu2+ (p = 0.0001) and the Leu7+Leu3+ (p = 0.0004) all had similar age-related increases. The one exception was the Leu7-Leu11+ (p = 0.1) granular lymphocyte subset which was low in the first decade of life but had reached maximum levels in the second decade. NK cell activity against K-562 cells was moderately increased with age (p = 0.06) with males and females exhibiting comparable activity. In contrast. lymphokine-activated killer cytotoxicity of non-cultured melanoma cells was similar in all age groups. NK cell activity was highly correlated with levels of morphologically defined granular lymphocytes (p = 0.005) and moderately with total Leu11+ cells (p = 0.06) but not with other subpopulations of granular lymphocytes.

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