Human immunosenescence: the prevailing of innate immunity, the failing of clonotypic immunity, and the filling of immunological space

Vaccine. 2000 Feb 25;18(16):1717-20. doi: 10.1016/s0264-410x(99)00513-7.


According to the remodeling theory of aging we proposed several years ago, the current data on human immunosenescence depicts a complex scenario where clonotypical immunity deteriorates, while ancestral innate/natural immunity is largely conserved or even up-regulated with age. Under an evolutionary perspective, antigens are the cause of a persistent life-long antigenic stress, responsible for the accumulation of effector CD8+/CD28- T cells, the decrease of naive T cells (CD95-) and the marked shrinkage of T cell repertoire with age. Concomitantly, NK cytotoxicity, chemotaxis, phagocytosis and complement activities remain unaffected or negligibly affected, in comparison to clonotypical immunity. Thus, immunosenescence is not a random deteriorative phenomenon but appears to inversely recapitulate an evolutionary pattern. On the whole, immunosenescence can be envisaged as the result of the continuous challenge of the unavoidable exposure to a variety of potential antigens (viruses, bacteria, but also food and self molecules among others). From this perspective antigens are nothing else than a particular type of stressor and immunosenescence appears to be the price paid to immunological memory, i.e. one of the main characteristics of the most evolutionary recent and sophisticated type of immunity. Together with the age-related thymic involution, and the consequent age-related decrease of thymic output of new T cells, this situation leaves the body practically devoid of virgin T cells, and thus likely more prone to a variety of infectious and non infectious diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Aging / pathology
  • Antigens / administration & dosage
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Division
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Models, Biological
  • Stress, Physiological / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Telomere / immunology


  • Antigens