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As the thymus involutes with age, the maintenance of peripheral naive T cells in humans becomes strongly dependent on peripheral cell division. However, mechanisms that orchestrate homeostatic division remain unclear. In this study we present evidence that the frequency of naive CD4 T cells that express CD25 (IL-2 receptor α-chain) increases with age on subsets of both CD31(+) and CD31(-) naive CD4 T cells. Analyses of TCR excision circles from sorted subsets indicate that CD25(+) naive CD4 T cells have undergone more rounds of homeostatic proliferation than their CD25(-) counterparts in both the CD31(+) and CD31(-) subsets, indicating that CD25 is a marker of naive CD4 T cells that have preferentially responded to survival signals from self-Ags or cytokines. CD25 expression on CD25(-) naive CD4 T cells can be induced by IL-7 in vitro in the absence of TCR activation. Although CD25(+) naive T cells respond to lower concentrations of IL-2 as compared with their CD25(-) counterparts, IL-2 responsiveness is further increased in CD31(-) naive T cells by their expression of the signaling IL-2 receptor β-chain CD122, forming with common γ-chain functional high-affinity IL-2 receptors. CD25 plays a role during activation: CD25(+) naive T cells stimulated in an APC-dependent manner were shown to produce increased levels of IL-2 as compared with their CD25(-) counterparts. This study establishes CD25(+) naive CD4 T cells, which are further delineated by CD31 expression, as a major functionally distinct immune cell subset in humans that warrants further characterization in health and disease.

Original publication




Journal article


J Immunol

Publication Date





2554 - 2566


Adult, Age Factors, CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cell Death, Cell Differentiation, Cells, Cultured, Cellular Senescence, Child, Humans, Immunophenotyping, Interleukin-2 Receptor alpha Subunit, Protein Binding, Receptors, Interleukin-2, Thymus Gland, Young Adult