The immune system in the elderly: I. Specific humoral immunity

Immunol Res. 1999;20(2):101-8. doi: 10.1007/BF02786466.


Profound and complex changes in the immune response occur during the aging process. Immunosenescence is reflected by a sum of disregulations of the immune system and its interaction with other systems. Many of the changes would appear to implicate age-related deficiencies of the immune responses. The term immunosenescence designates therefore a sort of deterioration of the immune function which is believed to manifest itself in the increased susceptibility to cancer, autoimmune disease, and infectious disease. Evidence has been accumulating from several studies which suggest an association between immune function and individual longevity. However, there are observations, especially in very old healthy people, that several immune functions are unexpectedly well preserved and substantially comparable to those observed in young subjects. These findings raise the question of whether the alterations that can be observed in the immune parameters of the elderly are a cause or a result of underlying disease processes. Moreover, studies on centenarians revealed a remodeling of the immune system rather than a deterioration, suggesting that the changes observed during immunosenescence do not correspond to immunodeficiency. The underlying mechanisms of these events are however still unclear. The purpose of the present review is to assess the status of research on the immunobiology of aging. In this first section, we focus attention on the B cell biology of aging. In clinical practice, the changes in humoral immune responsiveness and antibody-mediated defense mechanisms could greatly influence the incidence and outcome of bacterial infections and autoimmune diseases as well as the response to vaccines.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation / physiology
  • B-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Immunoglobulins / physiology
  • Longevity / immunology


  • Immunoglobulins