The effects of exercise training for eight weeks on immune cell characteristics among breast cancer survivors

Ainhoa Arana echarri, Lauren Struszczak, Mark Beresford, John P. Campbell, Dylan Thompson, James E. Turner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Methods: This study examined the effects of exercise training for 8 weeks on blood immune cell characteristics among 20 breast cancer survivors (age 56 ± 6 years, Body Mass Index 25.4 ± 3.0 kg m2) within two years of treatment. Participants were randomly allocated to a partly-supervised or a remotely-supported exercise group (n = 10 each). The partly supervised group undertook 2 supervised (laboratory-based treadmill walking and cycling) and 1 unsupervised session per week (outdoor walking) progressing from 35 to 50 min and 55% to 70% V˙O2max. The remotely-supported group received weekly exercise/outdoor walking targets (progressing from 105 to 150 min per week 55% to 70% V˙O2max) via weekly telephone calls discussing data from a fitness tracker. Immune cell counts were assessed using flow cytometry: CD4+ and CD8+ T cells (Naïve, NA; Central memory, CM; and Effector cells, EM and EMRA; using CD27/CD45RA), Stem cell-like memory T cells (TSCMs; using CD95/CD127), B cells (plasmablasts, memory, immature and naïve cells using CD19/CD27/CD38/CD10) and Natural Killer cells (effector and regulatory cells, using CD56/CD16). T cell function was assessed by unstimulated HLA-DR expression or interferon gamma (IFN-γ) production with Enzyme-linked ImmunoSpot assays following stimulation with virus or tumour-associated antigens.

Results: Total leukocyte counts, lymphocytes, monocytes and neutrophils did not change with training (p > 0.425). Most CD4+ and CD8+ T cell subtypes, including TSCMs, and B cell and NK cell subtypes did not change (p > 0.127). However, across groups combined, the CD4+ EMRA T cell count was lower after training (cells/µl: 18 ± 33 vs. 12 ± 22, p = 0.028) and these cells were less activated on a per cell basis (HLA-DR median fluorescence intensity: 463 ± 138 vs. 420 ± 77, p = 0.018). Furthermore, the partly-supervised group showed a significant decrease in the CD4+/CD8+ ratio (3.90 ± 2.98 vs. 2.54 ± 1.29, p = 0.006) and a significant increase of regulatory NK cells (cells/µl: 16 ± 8 vs. 21 ± 10, p = 0.011). T cell IFN-γ production did not change with exercise training (p > 0.515).

Discussion: In summary, most immune cell characteristics are relatively stable with 8 weeks of exercise training among breast cancer survivors. The lower counts and activation of CD4+ EMRA T cells, might reflect an anti-immunosenescence effect of exercise.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1163182
JournalFrontiers in sports and active living
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2023


  • breast cancer
  • survivorship
  • immune profiles
  • anti-cancer immunity
  • lifestyle
  • exercise
  • body composition


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