Characterization of age-associated exhausted CD8⁺ T cells defined by increased expression of Tim-3 and PD-1

Aging Cell. 2016 Apr;15(2):291-300. doi: 10.1111/acel.12435. Epub 2016 Jan 10.


Aging is accompanied by altered T-cell responses that result in susceptibility to various diseases. Previous findings on the increased expression of inhibitory receptors, such as programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1), in the T cells of aged mice emphasize the importance of investigations into the relationship between T-cell exhaustion and aging-associated immune dysfunction. In this study, we demonstrate that T-cell immunoglobulin mucin domain-3 (Tim-3), another exhaustion marker, is up-regulated on aged T cells, especially CD8(+) T cells. Tim-3-expressing cells also produced PD-1, but Tim-3(+) PD-1(+) CD8(+) T cells had a distinct phenotype that included the expression of CD44 and CD62L, from Tim-3(-) PD-1(+) cells. Tim-3(+) PD-1(+) CD8(+) T cells showed more evident properties associated with exhaustion than Tim-3(-) PD-1(+) CD8(+) T cells: an exhaustion-related marker expression profile, proliferative defects following homeostatic or TCR stimulation, and altered production of cytokines. Interestingly, these cells produced a high level of IL-10 and induced normal CD8(+) T cells to produce IL-10, which might contribute to immune dysregulation in aged mice. The generation of Tim-3-expressing CD8(+) T cells in aged mice seems to be mediated by encounters with antigens but not by specific infection, based on their high expression of CD49d and their unbiased TCR Vβ usage. In conclusion, we found that a CD8(+) T-cell population with age-associated exhaustion was distinguishable by its expression of Tim-3. These results provide clues for understanding the alterations that occur in T-cell populations with age and for improving dysfunctions related to the aging of the immune system.

Keywords: Aging; CD8+ T cells; PD-1; T-cell exhaustion; Tim-3.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Aging / pathology
  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Hepatitis A Virus Cellular Receptor 2 / biosynthesis*
  • Hepatitis A Virus Cellular Receptor 2 / immunology
  • Mice
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / biosynthesis*
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / immunology


  • Havcr2 protein, mouse
  • Hepatitis A Virus Cellular Receptor 2
  • Pdcd1 protein, mouse
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor