Effect of cellular aging on memory T-cell homeostasis

Arpit C Swain, José A M Borghans, Rob J de Boer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The fact that T-cell numbers remain relatively stable throughout life, and that T-cell proliferation rates increase during lymphopenia, has led to the consensus that T-cell numbers are regulated in a density-dependent manner. Competition for resources among memory T cells has been proposed to underlie this 'homeostatic' regulation. We first review how two classic models of resource competition affect the T-cell receptor (TCR) diversity of the memory T-cell pool. First, 'global' competition for cytokines leads to a skewed repertoire that tends to be dominated by the very first immune response. Second, additional 'cognate' competition for specific antigens results in a very diverse and stable memory T-cell pool, allowing every antigen to be remembered, which we therefore define as the 'gold-standard'. Because there is limited evidence that memory T cells of the same specificity compete more strongly with each other than with memory T cells of different specificities, i.e., for 'cognate' competition, we investigate whether cellular aging could account for a similar level of TCR diversity. We define cellular aging as a declining cellular fitness due to reduced proliferation. We find that the gradual erosion of previous T-cell memories due to cellular aging allows for better establishment of novel memories and for a much higher level of TCR diversity compared to global competition. A small continual source (either from stem-cell-like memory T-cells or from naive T-cells due to repeated antigen exposure) improves the diversity of the memory T-cell pool, but remarkably, only in the cellular aging model. We further show that the presence of a source keeps the inflation of chronic memory responses in check by maintaining the immune memories to non-chronic antigens. We conclude that cellular aging along with a small source provides a novel and immunologically realistic mechanism to achieve and maintain the 'gold-standard' level of TCR diversity in the memory T-cell pool.

Original languageEnglish
Article number947242
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2022


  • Memory attrition
  • T cell
  • cellular aging
  • competitive exclusion
  • homeostatic regulation
  • mathematical modelling


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