To uncouple the defects of activation and apoptosis of T cells from aged mice, we used anti-CD3 plus IL-2 stimulation to induce an activation response and analyzed the subsequent activation-induced cell death (AICD) response of T cells from 16-month-old mice. The results herein demonstrate that T cells from 16-month-old mice could be activated by anti-CD3-induced activation signals but exhibited distinct phenotypic and functional features compared to young (2-month-old) mice. These include a decrease in AICD, a delayed entry into the cell cycle, and a decreased telomerase activity. The decreased AICD of T cells from 16-month-old mice is associated with a decreased expression of Fas and Fas ligand (FasL), decreased susceptibility to anti-Fas-induced apoptosis, and an increased expansion of a CD8+ T-cell population. Prior to activation, these T cells exhibit a phenotype that is CD44hiCD62Lhi. After stimulation, these T cells produced high levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine, IFN-γ, and developed an increased population of IFN-γ+IFN-γR- T cells. Our results suggest that there is a dysregulation in T-cell homeostasis in aged mice associated with a decrease in AICD of CD8+ T cells. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.