High-intensity exercise elicits the mobilization of senescent T lymphocytes into the peripheral blood compartment in human subjects

Richard J. Simpson, Geraint D. Florida-James, Cormac Cosgrove, Greg P. Whyte, Scott Macrae, Hanspeter Pircher, Keith Guy


Clonal expansion of T lymphocytes in response to antigenic stimulation is a fundamental process of adaptive immunity. As a consequence of clonal expansion, some T lymphocytes acquire a senescent phenotype, fail to replicate in response to further antigenic stimulation, and express the killer cell lectin-like receptor G1 (KLRG1) and/or CD57. Physical exercise elicits a mobilization of large numbers of T lymphocytes into the bloodstream from peripheral lymphoid compartments, but the frequency of senescent cells in the mobilized population is not known. Eight male runners (age: 29 ± 9 yr; maximal O2 uptake 62 ± 6 ml·kg−1·min−1) performed an intensive treadmill-running protocol at 80% maximal O2 uptake to volitional exhaustion. Blood lymphocytes isolated before, immediately after, and 1 h after exercise were assessed for cell surface expression of KLRG1, CD57, CD28, CD45RA, CD45RO, CD62L, and lymphocyte subset markers (CD3, CD4, CD8, CD56) by flow cytometry. The percentage of all CD3+ T lymphocytes expressing KLRG1 and CD57 increased with exercise (P < 0.01). The change in T-lymphocyte KLRG1 expression was attributed to both CD4+ and CD8 bright T cells, with the relative change being greater for the CD8 bright population (P < 0.01). Mobilized T-lymphocyte populations expressing KLRG1 and CD57 appeared to extravasate the peripheral blood compartment after 1 h of recovery. In conclusion, T lymphocytes with a senescent phenotype are mobilized and subsequently removed from the bloodstream in response to acute high-intensity exercise. This suggests that T lymphocytes contained within the peripheral lymphoid compartments that are mobilized by exercise are likely to be at a more advanced stage of biological aging and have a reduced capacity for clonal expansion than blood-resident T cells.

  • killer cell lectin-like receptor G1
  • CD57
  • CD28
  • flow cytometry
  • lymphocyte trafficking
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