NK and NKT cell functions in immunosenescence

Aging Cell. 2004 Aug;3(4):177-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1474-9728.2004.00107.x.


Immunosenescence is defined as the state of dysregulated immune function that contributes to the increased susceptibility to infection, cancer and autoimmune diseases observed in old organisms, including humans. However, dysregulations in the immune functions are normally counterbalanced by continuous adaptation of the body to the deteriorations that occur over time. These adaptive changes are likely to occur in healthy human centenarians. Both innate (natural) and adaptive (acquired) immune responses decline with advancing age. Natural killer (NK) and natural killer T (NKT) cells represent the best model to describe innate and adaptive immune response in aging. NK and NKT cell cytotoxicity decreases in aging as well as interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) production by both activated cell types. Their innate and acquired immune responses are preserved in very old age. However, NKT cells bearing T-cell receptor (TCR) gammadelta also display an increased cytotoxicity and IFN-gamma production in very old age. This fact suggests that NKT cells bearing TCRgammadelta are more involved in maintaining innate and adaptive immune response in aging leading to successful aging. The role played by the neuroendocrine-immune network and by nutritional factors, such as zinc, in maintaining NK and NKT cell functions in aging is discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular / immunology
  • Immunity, Cellular / physiology
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Immunity, Innate / physiology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / metabolism
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology*
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Subsets / physiology*
  • Models, Immunological
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / physiology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / physiology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology*
  • Zinc / metabolism
  • Zinc / physiology


  • Cytokines
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Zinc