T cell receptor excision circle assessment of thymopoiesis in aging mice

Mol Immunol. 2002 Mar;38(11):841-8. doi: 10.1016/s0161-5890(01)00122-5.


Signal joint T cell receptor delta (TCRD) excision circles (TRECs) are episomal DNA circles generated by the DNA recombination process that is used by T lymphocytes to produce antigen-specific alpha/beta T cell receptors. Measurement of TRECs in thymocytes and peripheral blood T cells has been used to study thymus output in chickens and humans. We have developed a real-time quantitative-PCR assay for the specific detection and quantification of mouse TCRD episomal DNA circles excised from the TCRA locus during TCRA gene rearrangement (mTRECs). We found that the mouse TCRD TRECs detected with this assay were predominantly in naïve phenotype CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells. In a series of aged mice (range 6-90-week-old) we determined the absolute number of thymocytes and the number of molecules of mTRECs/100,000 thymocytes. We found that the absolute number of thymocytes dramatically decreased with age (P<0.05) and that molecules of mTREC/100,000 thymocytes also declined with mouse age (P<0.05). Splenocytes were isolated from aging mice and the frequency of naïve phenotype CD4 and CD8 cells determined. There was a significant drop in both CD4 and CD8 naïve peripheral T cells in the aged mice over time. mTREC analysis in purified CD4(+) and CD8(+) splenocytes demonstrated a constant level of mTRECs in the CD4 compartment until age 90 weeks, while the mTRECs in the CD8 compartment fell with age (P<0.05). By combining the mouse TREC assay with T cell phenotypic analysis, we demonstrated that IL-7 administration to young mice induced both increased thymopoiesis and peripheral T cell proliferation. In contrast, IL-7 treatment of aged mice did not augment thymopoiesis, nor induce expansion of splenic T cells. Thus, thymus output continues throughout murine adult life, and the thymic atrophy of aging in mice is not reversed by administration of IL-7.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Aging / pathology
  • Animals
  • Atrophy
  • Female
  • Hematopoiesis* / drug effects
  • Interleukin-7 / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / biosynthesis*
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Thymus Gland / pathology


  • Interleukin-7
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta