High intensity exercise: a cause of lymphocyte apoptosis?

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1998 Aug 19;249(2):366-70. doi: 10.1006/bbrc.1998.9156.


Post exercise lymphocytopenia is well documented and attributed to egress of lymphocytes from the vascular compartment. Recent studies have reported exercise induced DNA damage in leukocytes and have questioned a possible link to apoptosis. Eleven subjects underwent a ramped treadmill test to exhaustion. Venous blood samples were taken before, immediately post exercise, and 24 and 48 hours after exercise. Single cell gel electrophoresis revealed evidence of single strand DNA damage in 10% of lymphocytes immediately after exercise, but not at other times. Fluorescent microscopy showed three patterns of DNA distribution, similar to those seen in apoptosis, at all times after exercise. Three subjects underwent the same exercise protocol, and lymphocytes were prepared for flow cytometry to determine apoptosis using the TUNEL method. Flow cytometry revealed lymphocyte apoptosis in 63% of lymphocytes immediately after exercise and 86.2%, 24 hours after exercise. Lymphocyte apoptosis is documented for the first time after exercise and may in part account for exercise induced lymphocytopenia and reduced immunity.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • DNA / analysis
  • DNA Damage
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / chemistry
  • Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Lymphopenia / etiology
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence


  • DNA