Aging and immunity

Acta Pathol Jpn. 1992 Aug;42(8):537-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1827.1992.tb03103.x.


The function of the immune system peaks at around puberty and gradually declines thereafter with advance in age. The age-related decline of immunological function primarily occurs in the T cell-dependent immune system and is generally associated with increase in susceptibility to infections as well as in incidence of autoimmune phenomena in the elderly. The age-related change in T cell-dependent immune functions can be ascribed to the physiological thymic atrophy which starts in an early stage of life. Emigration of T cells from the thymus to the periphery mainly takes place in the late fetal and newborn stage, and dramatically declines after puberty. In other words, the thymic capacity to promote T cell differentiation starts to change in the early stage of life in terms of quantity and quality of T cells. Thus, the composition of T cell-subsets in the periphery gradually changes with age, resulting in the alteration of T cell functions in the elderly. The restoration of immunological functions of the aged individuals is possible and might be beneficial for them to cope with various diseases associated with aging. Physiological thymic atrophy is controlled by both extrathymic and intrathymic factors, and is not a totally irreversible process. The process of thymic atrophy might be explained by further understanding of the relationship between the neuroendocrine and the immune systems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Autoimmunity
  • Humans
  • Immune System / growth & development
  • Immunity*
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / cytology
  • Thymus Gland / growth & development
  • Thymus Gland / physiology