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Open Access Open Badges Research

Ageing combines CD4 T cell lymphopenia in secondary lymphoid organs and T cell accumulation in gut associated lymphoid tissue

Kim Zita Martinet12, Stéphane Bloquet23 and Christine Bourgeois12*

Author Affiliations

1 INSERM U1012, Faculté de Médecine Paris-Sud, 63 rue Gabriel Péri, 94276 Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France

2 Univ Paris-Sud, UMR-S1012, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France

3 Animalerie centrale, Faculté de Médecine Paris-Sud, Univ Paris-Sud, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France

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Immunity & Ageing 2014, 11:8  doi:10.1186/1742-4933-11-8

Published: 8 May 2014



CD4 T cell lymphopenia is an important T cell defect associated to ageing. Higher susceptibility to infections, cancer, or autoimmune pathologies described in aged individuals is thought to partly rely on T cell lymphopenia. We hypothesize that such diverse effects may reflect anatomical heterogeneity of age related T cell lymphopenia. Indeed, no data are currently available on the impact of ageing on T cell pool recovered from gut associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), a crucial site of CD4 T cell accumulation.


Primary, secondary and tertiary lymphoid organs of C57BL/6 animals were analysed at three intervals of ages: 2 to 6 months (young), 10 to 14 months (middle-aged) and 22 to 26 months (old). We confirmed that ageing preferentially impacted CD4 T cell compartment in secondary lymphoid organs. Importantly, a different picture emerged from gut associated mucosal sites: during ageing, CD4 T cell accumulation was progressively developing in colon and small intestine lamina propria and Peyer’s patches. Similar trend was also observed in middle-aged SJL/B6 F1 mice. Interestingly, an inverse correlation was detected between CD4 T cell numbers in secondary lymphoid organs and colonic lamina propria of C57BL/6 mice whereas no increase in proliferation rate of GALT CD4 T cells was detected. In contrast to GALT, no CD4 T cell accumulation was detected in lungs and liver in middle-aged animals. Finally, the concomitant accumulation of CD4 T cell in GALT and depletion in secondary lymphoid organs during ageing was detected both in male and female animals.


Our data thus demonstrate that T cell lymphopenia in secondary lymphoid organs currently associated to ageing is not sustained in gut or lung mucosa associated lymphoid tissues or non-lymphoid sites such as the liver. The inverse correlation between CD4 T cell numbers in secondary lymphoid organs and colonic lamina propria and the absence of overt proliferation in GALT suggest that marked CD4 T cell decay in secondary lymphoid organs during ageing reflect redistribution of CD4 T cells rather than generalized CD4 T cell decay. Such anatomical heterogeneity may provide an important rationale for the diversity of immune defects observed during ageing.

Immunology; T cell; T cell lymphopenia; T cell homeostasis; Immunosenescence; Ageing; Aging; Age; GALT; MALT; CD4 T cell lymphopenia; CD4 T cell homeostasis