Immunological changes in the elderly

Aging (Milano). 1999 Oct;11(5):281-6. doi: 10.1007/BF03339801.


Immunosenescence is a complex remodelling of the immune system which may contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality in the elderly. Much evidence suggests an association between immune function and longevity. It was advanced that individuals who have survived in good health to the maximum life span are equipped with optimal cell defense mechanisms. Despite the great number of studies on the immune system in the elderly, little is known of the biological basis of immunosenescence in humans. This is partly due to the contrasting results often obtained by the various investigators. One source of discrepancy is that diseases are frequent in aging, and the alterations observed in the immune parameters of the elderly could be a cause or alternatively a consequence of the underlying pathological processes. Undoubtedly some diseases to which aged people are particularly susceptible, such as infectious, autoimmune and neoplastic pathologies, include dysregulation of several immune functions in their pathogenesis. On the other hand, recent studies in healthy centenarians suggest that the immunological changes observed during aging are consistent with a reshaping, rather than a generalized deterioration, of the main immune functions. Considering that the number of old people is dramatically increasing, and that geriatric pathology is becoming an important aspect of clinical practice, it seems particularly interesting to review the peculiar findings in the immune system of the elderly so as to better understand their susceptibility to certain diseases, and the links between health and longevity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • B-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / physiology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology
  • Phagocytosis / physiology
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology