T-lymphocytes play a central role in the effector and regulatory mechanisms of the adaptive immune response.
Upon exiting the thymus they begin to undergo a series of phenotypic and functional changes that continue throughout the
lifetime and being most pronounced in the elderly. The reason postulated for this is that the dynamic processes of repeated
interaction with cognate antigens lead to multiple division cycles involving a high degree of cell differentiation, senescence,
restriction of the T-cell receptor (TCR) repertoire, and cell cycle arrest. This cell cycle arrest is associated with the
loss of telomere sequences from the ends of chromosomes. Telomere length is reduced at each cell cycle, and critically
short telomeres recruit components of the DNA repair machinery and trigger replicative senescence or apoptosis. Repetitively
stimulated T-cells become refractory to telomerase induction, suffer telomere erosion and enter replicative senescence.
The latter is characterized by the accumulation of highly differentiated T-cells with new acquired functional capabilities,
which can be caused by aberrant expression of genes normally suppressed by epigenetic mechanisms in CD4+ or
CD8+ T-cells. Age-dependent demethylation and overexpression of genes normally suppressed by DNA methylation have
been demonstrated in senescent subsets of T-lymphocytes. Thus, T-cells, principally CD4+CD28null T-cells, aberrantly
express genes, including those of the KIR gene family and cytotoxic proteins such as perforin, and overexpress CD70,
IFN-γ, LFA-1 and others. In summary, owing to a lifetime of exposure to and proliferation against a variety of pathogens,
highly differentiated T-cells suffer molecular modifications that alter their cellular homeostasis mechanisms.
Keywords: Differentiation, Epigenetic regulation, Immunosenescence, T-cell signalling, Telomere shortening, Thymic involution, T-lymphocytes, T-cell receptor (TCR), Demethylation, Apoptosis.
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