Alterations in the circulating CD8+ T cell pool, with a loss of naïve and accumulation of effector/effector memory cells, are pronounced in older adults. However, homeostatic forces that dictate such changes remain incompletely understood. This observational cross-sectional study explored the basis for variability of CD8+ T cell number and composition of its main subsets: naïve, central memory and effector memory T cells, in 131 cytomegalovirus (CMV) seropositive subjects aged over 60 years. We found great heterogeneity of CD8+ T cell numbers, which was mainly due to variability of the CD8 + CD28- T cell subset regardless of age. Analysis, by multiple regression, of distinct factors revealed that age was a predictor for the loss in absolute number of naïve T cells, but was not associated with changes in central or effector memory CD8+ T cell subsets. By contrast, the size of CD8+ T cells specific to pp65 and IE-1 antigens of CMV, predicted CD28 - CD8+ T cell, antigen-experienced CD8+ T cell, and even total CD8+ T cell numbers, but not naïve CD8+ T cell loss. These results indicate a clear dichotomy between the homeostasis of naïve and antigen-experienced subsets of CD8+ T cells which are independently affected, in human later life, by age and antigen-specific responses to CMV, respectively.
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