Immunological studies of aging. Decreased production of and response to T cell growth factor by lymphocytes from aged humans

J Clin Invest. 1981 Apr;67(4):937-42. doi: 10.1172/jci110143.


Human lymphocytes from elderly and young donors were cultured with phytohemagglutinin (PHA) or concanavalin A. Cultures from old donors produced less T cell growth factor (TCGF) and incorporated less tritiated thymidine (3H-Tdr) than did similar cultures from young donors in the presence of either mitogen. Furthermore, the response of lymphocytes from elderly donors to TCGF was impaired. Thus, PHA-activated T cells from aged donors showed no increase tritiated thymidine incorporation when incubated with exogenous human TCGF. In contrast, addition of exogenous human TCGF to PHA-activated peripheral blood leukocytes from younger individuals increased tritiated thymidine incorporation by 30-50%. The impaired response to TCGF was associated with decreased binding of TCGF by PHA-activated cells from old donors. TCGF production or responsiveness was not associated with the presence of "suppressor" activity in elderly T cell preparations. These studies suggest a possible molecular mechanism for the impaired proliferative response of elderly human T cells. These data lend support to the hypothesis that defects in the capacity to either produce or respond to TCGF may be a fundamental cause of immune deficiency.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Cell Division
  • Concanavalin A / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Interleukin-2 / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-2 / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes / cytology
  • Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Lymphokines / immunology*
  • Phytohemagglutinins / pharmacology


  • Interleukin-2
  • Lymphokines
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Concanavalin A