Effect of food restriction on life span and immune functions in long-lived Fischer-344 x Brown Norway F1 rats

G. Fernandes, J. T. Venkatraman, A. Turturro, V. G. Attwood, R. W. Hart

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77 Scopus citations


Life-long food restriction is known to slow aging and reduce the rate of occurrence of age-associated disease processes, but the mechanism by which this is accomplished is unknown. In this study we have examined the effect of food restriction on the proliferative response of spleen cells to mitogens and lymphokine production in 6-, 18-, and 30-month-old AL and FR Fischer-344 x Brown Norway (F-344 x BNF1) female rats whose average life span is 137 weeks on an ad libitum (AL) diet and 177 weeks on a food-restricted (FR) diet. In addition, the ability of food restriction to recall antigens was tested in 10-month-old rats by immunizing them with keyhole limpet and hen's egg albumin and measuring proliferative response of draining lymph node cells to these antigens. Our results indicated that the spleen-cell proliferative response to phytohemagglutinin and concanavalin A (ConA) was equal in 6- and 18-month-old rats but declined significantly in 30-month-old AL rats compared to FR rats. Although flow cytometric analyses did not reveal differences for CD4, CD8, and Ig+ cells with age, a significant rise in memory T cells (Ox-22(low)) in both CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell subset lineage was noted in AL-fed rats at 30 months of age. In FR rats, however, only a minimal shift of naive T cells (Ox-22(high)) to memory cells was observed. In FR rats, the observed changes in the naive and memory T-cell subsets correlate well with the observed higher levels of the antiinflammatory interleukin-2 (IL-2) and lower levels of the proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α. The ability of food-restricted animals to recall antigens was lower compared to their age-matched controls, though the proliferative response to T-cell mitogen Con A and superantigen staphylococcal enterotoxin B was higher. These findings indicate that food restriction may selectively act to maintain a lower number of antigen-induced memory T cells with age, thereby maintaining the organism's ability to produce higher levels of IL-2 with age. In summary, the increased cell-mediated immune function noted in aged FR rats appears to be due to the presence of a higher number of naive T cells, which are known to produce elevated levels of the antiinflammatory cytokines, which may in part be responsible for reducing the observed age-related rise in disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-95
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Immunology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997


  • aging
  • cytokines
  • food restriction
  • immune functions
  • lymphocyte subsets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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