Differential leukocytosis and lymphocyte mitogenic response to acute maximal exercise in the young and old

Michael A. Ceddia, Eric A. Price, Candice Koella Kohlmeier, Joella K. Evans, Qin Lu, Edward McAuley, Jeffrey A. Woods

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the increasing use of exercise in the elderly as a means of improving muscle function, little is known regarding the effects of exercise on the senescent immune system. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of acute maximal exercise on blood leukocyte numbers, leukocyte subsets, and the T cell mitogenic response in the elderly. Methods: Previously sedentary elderly (N = 33, 65.3 ± 0.8 yr) and young (N = 14, 22.4 ± 0.7 yr) subjects participated in a modified Balke maximal exercise treadmill test. Venous blood samples were collected pre-, immediately post-, and 20 min postexercise. Blood was analyzed for leukocyte counts, leukocyte subsets via immunofluorescence, and whole blood mitogenesis in response to various doses of mitogens. Results: Whereas V̇O(2max) was lower in the elderly, maximal RQ, age-predicted heart rates, and times to fatigue were not different, indicating that both groups achieved relative maximal exercise intensity. There were significant exercise-induced leukocyroses in both the elderly and young made up largely of a lymphocytosis and neutrophilia. The magnitude of the leukocytosis was lower in the elderly and failed to return to pre-exercise levels by 20 min postexercise. Acute maximal exercise increased CD8+ (153% vs 112% in young and old, respectively) and CD4+ (57% vs 22% in young and old, respectively) T cells when measured immediately postexercise. By 20 min postexercise, concentrations in the young were not significantly different from baseline, whereas CD8 cell number was still elevated in the old. The elderly had significantly higher percentages of memory (i.e., CD45RO+) and significantly lower percentages of naive (i,e., CD45RA+) CD4 and CD8 T cells pre-exercise, and the young and old recruited approximately equal numbers of CD8+ naive and memory cells to the blood in response to exercise. In contrast, the aged recruited significantly fewer numbers of CD4+ naive and transitional (CD45RA+RO+) cells. At most doses of Con A and PHA, the lymphoproliferative response was lower in the elderly subjects even though they had significantly higher numbers and percentages of CD3+ cells. Interestingly, immediately postexercise, young (but not old) subjects demonstrated reduced proliferative ability on a per CD3+ cell basis. Conclusions: These data indicate that several blood leukocyte responses to maximal exercise stress are similar in the young and the old. However, the elderly demonstrate a less resilient leukocytosis and a different lympho-proliferative response following acute maximal exercise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)829-836
Number of pages8
JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1999


  • Aging
  • Exercise
  • Immunity
  • Leukocytes lymphocytes
  • Mitogenesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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