European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 101, Issue 2, pp 233–240 | Cite as

Evidence of sex-based differences in natural killer cell responses to exercise and carbohydrate intake in children

  • Brian W. TimmonsEmail author
  • Oded Bar-Or
Original Article


Distinct natural killer (NK) cell subsets (CD56bright and CD56dim) are mobilized with exercise and these cells may serve adaptive functions. We determined the distribution of NK cell subsets in response to exercise and carbohydrate (CHO) intake in young girls and compared these responses with previous findings in young boys of the same age. Twelve girls (12 years old) cycled for 60 min at 70% \( \ifmmode\expandafter\dot\else\expandafter\.\fi{V}{\text{O}}_{{{\text{2max}}}} \) while drinking 6% CHO or flavoured water. Blood was collected at rest, during (30 and 60 min) and following (30 and 60 min) exercise to identify NK cells as CD3CD56bright or CD3CD56dim. CD69 expression on total CD3CD56+ cells was also determined. A trend (P = 0.07) was found for a trial × time interaction in CD56dim cell counts, with values lower with CHO than with water. CHO intake did not influence CD56bright responses (P ≥ 0.39). The CD56bright:CD56dim ratio increased during recovery from exercise (P < 0.001), compared to rest, with no effect of CHO intake (P = 0.48). CD69 expression was not different between exercise or recovery and rest. Like young boys, girls experience an elevated CD56bright:CD56dim ratio during recovery from exercise and CHO intake attenuates the exercise-induced CD56dim but not CD56bright cell response. Unlike young boys, girls do not experience a CHO-induced increase in the CD56bright:CD56dim ratio during recovery and CD69 expression does not increase on CD3CD56+ cells during recovery. We conclude that even in young children sex-based differences exist in the NK cell response to exercise and CHO intake.


Females CD56 CD69 Cycling Flow cytometry 



This work was funded through generous support by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and BD Biosciences. We thank Melanie De Jonge, Marta Kubacki, Raymond Trott, Jae-Hunn Lee, Mazen Hamadeh, and Amy Mark for assistance with this experiment. The extraordinary effort and time of the girls who participated are gratefully acknowledged. Acquisition of flow cytometry data was performed in the McMaster Flow Cytometry Facility, supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Sadly, Dr. Oded Bar-Or passed away before submission of this manuscript; his numerous contributions to pediatric exercise science will never be forgotten.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre, Departments of PediatricsMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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