The purpose of this investigation was to characterize skeletal muscle T-cell accumulation after contraction-induced muscle damage and test the hypothesis that T cells contribute to postdamage muscle protection (i.e., the repeated bout effect) in a way reminiscent of their role in adaptive immunity.
In vivo lengthening contractions were used to model the repeated bout effect and contralateral repeated bout effect in rats. Intramuscular T-cell subsets were characterized by flow cytometry after single and repeated bouts of lengthening contractions, and an adoptive T-cell transfer experiment was done to test whether T cells from muscle damage-experienced rats can confer protection from injury to damage-naive rats.
Electrically stimulated lengthening contractions elicited the repeated bout effect, but not the contralateral repeated bout effect. Although leukocytes (CD45+) were scarce in undamaged muscle (2.1% of all cells), substantially more (63% of all cells) were observed after a single bout of lengthening contractions. Within the leukocyte population were several subsets of T cells, including conventional CD4+, CD8+, memory, and regulatory T cells. In contrast, a minimal increase in T cells was observed after a second bout of lengthening contractions. Conventional CD4+ T cells (FoxP3−) were the most abundant subset in muscle after lengthening contractions. Adoptive T-cell transfer from damage-experienced rats did not confer protection to damage-naive recipient rats.
The robust T-cell accumulation, particularly the CD4 subset, after contraction-induced damage suggests a role for these cells in muscle repair and adaptation to muscle damaging contractions. Moreover, T cells are unlikely to mediate the protective adaptations of the repeated bout effect in a manner similar to their role in adaptive immunity.