A systems biology approach to investigating the influence of exercise and fitness on the composition of leukocytes in peripheral blood

Michael P. Gustafson, Ara Celi DiCostanzo, Courtney M. Wheatley, Chul Ho Kim, Svetlana Bornschlegl, Dennis A. Gastineau, Bruce D. Johnson, Allan B. Dietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background: Exercise immunology has become a growing field in the past 20 years, with an emphasis on understanding how different forms of exercise affect immune function. Mechanistic studies are beginning to shed light on how exercise may impair the development of cancer or be used to augment cancer treatment. The beneficial effects of exercise on the immune system may be exploited to improve patient responses to cancer immunotherapy. Methods: We investigated the effects of acute exercise on the composition of peripheral blood leukocytes over time in a male population of varying fitness. Subjects performed a brief maximal intensity cycling regimen and a longer less intense cycling regimen at separate visits. Leukocytes were measured by multi-parameter flow cytometry of more than 50 immunophenotypes for each collection sample. Results: We found a differential induction of leukocytosis dependent on exercise intensity and duration. Cytotoxic natural killer cells demonstrated the greatest increase (average of 5.6 fold) immediately post-maximal exercise whereas CD15+ granulocytes demonstrated the largest increase at 3 h post-maximal exercise (1.6 fold). The longer, less intense endurance exercise resulted in an attenuated leukocytosis. Induction of leukocytosis did not differ in our limited study of active (n = 10) and sedentary (n = 5) subjects to exercise although we found that in baseline samples, sedentary individuals had elevated percentages of CD45RO+ memory CD4+ T cells and elevated proportions of CD4+ T cells expressing the negative immune regulator programmed death-1 (PD-1). Finally, we identified several leukocytes whose presence correlated with obesity related fitness parameters. Conclusions: Our data suggests that leukocytes subsets are differentially mobilized into the peripheral blood and dependent on the intensity and duration of exercise. Pre-existing compositional differences of leukocytes were associated with various fitness parameters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30
JournalJournal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 18 2017


  • Exercise immunology
  • Fitness
  • Monocytes
  • NK cells
  • Peripheral blood leukocytes
  • T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research


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