The strict limit in proliferative potential of normal human somatic cells - a process known as replicative senescence - is highly relevant to the immune system, because clonal expansion is fundamental to adaptive immunity. CD8(+) T cells that undergo extensive rounds of antigen-driven proliferation in cell culture invariably reach the end stage of replicative senescence, characterized by irreversible cell-cycle arrest and a critically short telomere length. Cultures of senescent CD8(+) T cells also show resistance to apoptosis, permanent loss of CD28 expression, altered cytokine profiles, reduced ability to respond to stress, and various functional changes. Cells with similar characteristics accumulate during normal aging as well as in younger persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus, suggesting that the process of replicative senescence is not an artifact of cell culture but is also occurring in vivo. Interestingly, in elderly persons, the presence of high proportions of CD8(+) T cells with characteristics of replicative senescence is correlated with reduced antibody responses to vaccines as well as with osteoporotic fractures. CD8(+)CD28(-) T cells also accumulate in patients with certain types of cancer. The emerging picture is that senescent CD8(+) T cells may modulate both immune and non-immune functions, contributing not only to reduced anti-viral immunity but also to diverse age-related pathologies.