Calorie restriction induces reversible lymphopenia and lymphoid organ atrophy due to cell redistribution

Nico A. Contreras, Luigi Fontana, Valeria Tosti, Janko Nikolich-Žugich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Calorie restriction (CR) without malnutrition increases life span and health span in multiple model organisms. In non-human and human primates, CR causes changes that protect against several age-related pathologies, reduces inflammation, and preserves or improves cell-mediated immunity. However, CR has also been shown to exhibit adverse effects on certain organs and systems, including the immune system, and to impact genetically different organisms of the same species differentially. Alternately, short periods of fasting followed by refeeding may result in the proliferation of bone marrow stem cells, suggesting a potential rejuvenation effect that could impact the hematopoietic compartment. However, the global consequences of CR followed by refeeding on the immune system have not been carefully investigated. Here, we show that individuals practicing long-term CR with adequate nutrition have markedly lower circulating levels of total leukocytes, neutrophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes. In 10-month-old mice, short-term CR lowered lymphocyte cellularity in multiple lymphoid tissues, but not in bone marrow, which appears to be a site of influx, or a “safe haven” for B, NK, and T cells during CR. Cellular loss and redistribution was reversed within the first week of refeeding. Based on BrdU incorporation and Ki67 expression assays, repopulating T cells exhibited high proliferation in the refeeding group following CR. Finally, we demonstrated that the thymus was not essential for T cell repopulation following refeeding. These findings are of potential relevance to strategies to rejuvenate the immune system in mammals and warrant further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-291
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Aging
  • Calorie restriction
  • Cellular immunology
  • Leukocytes
  • Lymphocytes
  • Rejuvenation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


Dive into the research topics of 'Calorie restriction induces reversible lymphopenia and lymphoid organ atrophy due to cell redistribution'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this