Autoimmunity and geriatrics: clinical significance of autoimmune manifestations in the elderly

Lupus. 2003;12(5):341-55. doi: 10.1191/0961203303lu383ed.


The immune system undergoes continuous morphologic and functional changes throughout the years, and it is now believed that the immune response has its peak function in puberty and gradually decreases with age (immunosenescence). Recent studies in healthy octogenarian patients suggest that the immune system, instead of suffering a generalized deterioration, undergoes a remodelling/readjustment of its major functions. Increase in two contrasting phenomena coexist in immunosenescence: on the one hand, a decrease in the capacity of the immune response and, on the other hand autoantibody production. The possible consequences of this progressive 'ageing' of the immune system are the increase in autoimmune phenomena, incidence of neoplasia and predisposition to infections. The study of autoimmune manifestations in elderly populations should be considered a priority for future medical research because of increasing life expectancy, especially in developed countries. This review analyses the main immune disorders associated with immunosenescence, the prevalence and clinical significance of autoantibodies in the elderly and the clinical expression of the main autoimmune diseases in older patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Autoantibodies / blood*
  • Autoimmune Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases* / immunology
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Immune System
  • Prevalence


  • Autoantibodies