The present study was designed to demonstrate age- and sex-related differences in immune functions, and to determine whether subchronic elevations in serotonin (5-HT) availability in vivo would alter immune functions assessed subsequently in vitro. Male and female F344 rats (5 and 21 months of age) were administered the 5-HT releaser and reuptake inhibitor, d-fenfluramine (d-Fen), in their drinking water for 30-38 days then killed. The young animals received a higher dose (1.8 mg/kg/day) of d-Fen than the old rats (0.6 mg/kg/day) in order to compensate for age-related decreases in drug biotransformation and clearance. Brain and spleen d-Fen and metabolite concentrations, however, were considerably higher in the young than in the old rats. d-Fen treatment did not affect body weight or fluid intake. Although substantial sex differences in immune function were not discerned, age-related decreases were observed in absolute splenic cellularity, recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2) stimulated natural killer (NK) cytotoxicity, LPS stimulated B-cell mitogenesis, and in the level of Ox19 (CD5) positive cells. d-Fen caused an increase in absolute spleen weight and a decrease in absolute splenic cellularity only in the old rats of both sexes. Spleen cells from young male and old female rats receiving d-Fen had relatively more large granular lymphocytes and enhanced baseline and rIL-2 activated killing of YAC-1 cells than their vehicle matched or opposite sex counterparts. The drug also increased Con A-induced T-cell proliferation in young males and LPS induced B-cell proliferation in old females. d-Fen decreased Ox39 (CD25) levels by 19%, but did not affect any of the other phenotypes examined. The results suggest that 5-HT has a selective stimulatory effect on young male and old female NK activity, and that old female rats are more sensitive to the immunological effects of d-Fen than old male rats.
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