Age-related decline of perforin expression in human cytotoxic T lymphocytes and natural killer cells

Daniel Rukavina, Gordana Laskarin, Gordana Rubesa, Natasa Strbo, Ivica Bedenicki, Darko Manestar, Mario Glavas, Stephen E. Christmas, Eckhard R. Podack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


In this study a flow cytometric technique for detecting cytoplasmic perforin (P) has been used to quantify age-related changes in perforin expression in human peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL). Proportions of P+ lymphocytes increased after birth, but declined rapidly after the age of 70 years. This was true for both T cells and CD16+ and CD56+ natural killer (NK) cells. Children showed in addition to high levels of perforin positive CD8+ cells a much higher proportion of CD4+P+ cells than the other age groups. In elderly individuals there was also a highly significant reduction in mean levels of perforin per cell as compared with all other groups (P < .05 to .001). Adult women had consistently higher mean levels of perforin per cell than adult men for all P+ cell phenotypes. Functional tests clearly showed the deficiency in early spontaneous cytotoxic potential of PBL from elderly persons due to relative P deficiency, which can be corrected by stimulation of cytolytic cells with target cells and interleukin-2 (IL-2). The deficiency in cytolytic activity on the contact with target cells may have implications for antiviral and antitumor immunity in elderly persons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2410-2420
Number of pages11
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Hematology
  • Cell Biology


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