Background During ageing an altered redox balance has been observed in both intracellular and extracellular compartments, primarily due to glutathione depletion and metabolic stress. Maintaining redox homeostasis is important for controlling proliferation and apoptosis in response to specific stimuli for a variety of cells. For T cells, the ability to generate specific response to antigen is dependent on the oxidation state of cell surface and cytoplasmic protein-thiols. Intracellular thiols are maintained in their reduced state by a network of redox regulating peptides, proteins and enzymes such as glutathione, thioredoxins and thioredoxin reductase. Here we have investigated whether any relationship exists between age and secreted or cell surface thioredoxin-1, intracellular glutathione concentration and T cell surface thioredoxin 1 (Trx-1) and how this is related to interleukin (IL)-2 production. Results Healthy older adults have reduced lymphocyte surface expression and lower circulating plasma Trx-1 concentrations. Using buthionine sulfoximine to deplete intracellular glutathione in Jurkat T cells we show that cell surface Trx-1 is lowered, secretion of Trx-1 is decreased and the response to the lectin phytohaemagglutinin measured as IL-2 production is also affected. These effects are recapitulated by another glutathione depleting agent, diethylmaleate. Conclusion Together these data suggest that a relationship exists between the intracellular redox compartment and Trx-1 proteins. Loss of lymphocyte surface Trx-1 may be a useful biomarker of healthy ageing.