Age-associated changes in CD4 T-cell functionality have been linked to chronic inflammation and decreased immunity. However, a detailed characterization of CD4 T cell phenotypes that could explain these dysregulated functional properties is lacking. We used single-cell RNA sequencing and multidimensional protein analyses to profile thousands of CD4 T cells obtained from young and old mice. We found that the landscape of CD4 T cell subsets differs markedly between young and old mice, such that three cell subsets—exhausted, cytotoxic, and activated regulatory T cells (aTregs)—appear rarely in young mice but gradually accumulate with age. Most unexpected were the extreme pro- and anti-inflammatory phenotypes of cytotoxic CD4 T cells and aTregs, respectively. These findings provide a comprehensive view of the dynamic reorganization of the CD4 T cell milieu with age and illuminate dominant subsets associated with chronic inflammation and immunity decline, suggesting new therapeutic avenues for age-related diseases.
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