Age-related Differences in T-cell Subsets and Markers of Subclinical Inflammation in Aging Are Independently Associated With Type 2 Diabetes in the Health and Retirement Study

Can J Diabetes. 2023 Oct;47(7):594-602.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.jcjd.2023.05.010. Epub 2023 Jun 1.


Objectives: Age-related changes in adaptive immunity and subclinical inflammation are both important risk factors for diabetes in older adults. We evaluated the independent association between T-cell subsets, subclinical inflammation, and diabetes risk in the Health and Retirement Study (HRS).

Methods: We measured 11 T-cell subsets, 5 pro-inflammatory markers, and 2 anti-inflammatory markers from the 2016 wave of the HRS (baseline). Diabetes/prediabetes status was estimated at the 2016, 2018, and 2020 waves of HRS, based on levels of blood glucose/glycated hemoglobin in plasma or self-reported status. We used survey generalized logit models to evaluate the cross-sectional associations and Cox proportional hazard models to evaluate longitudinal associations.

Results: Among 8,540 participants (56 to 107 years of age), 27.6% had prevalent type 2 diabetes and 31.1% had prediabetes in the 2016 survey. After adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, obesity, smoking, comorbidity index, and cytomegalovirus seropositivity, individuals with type 2 diabetes had lower naive T cells and higher memory and terminal effector T cells as compared with normoglycemic individuals. Among 3,230 normoglycemic participants in the 2016 survey, the incidence of diabetes was 1.8% over 4 years of follow-up. The baseline percentage of CD4+ effector memory T cells was associated with a lower risk of incident diabetes (hazard ratio [HR]=0.63, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.49 to 0.80, p=0.0003) after adjustment for covariates. Baseline level of interleukin-6 (IL-6) was associated with risk of incident diabetes (HR=1.52, 95% CI 1.18 to 1.97, p=0.002). The associations between age-related changes in CD4+ effector memory T cells and risk of incident diabetes remained unchanged after adjustment for subclinical inflammation, although adjusting for CD4+ effector memory T cells nullified the association between IL-6 and incident diabetes.

Conclusions: This study showed that the baseline percentage of CD4+ effector memory T cells was inversely associated with incident diabetes independent of subclinical inflammation, but CD4+ effector memory T-cell subsets affected the relationship between IL-6 and incident diabetes. Further studies are needed to confirm and investigate mechanisms by which T-cell immunity affects diabetes risk.

Keywords: CMV seropositivity; age-related immune phenotype; cellules T naïves; cellules T à mémoire; diabetes; diabète; inflammation; memory T cells; naive T cells; phénotype immunitaire lié à l’âge; séropositivité au CMV.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / epidemiology
  • Interleukin-6
  • Prediabetic State* / epidemiology
  • Retirement
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets


  • Interleukin-6