Immunity and Age: Living in the Past?

Trends Immunol. 2006 Jul;27(7):303-7. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2006 May 30.


Increasing age is associated with a decreasing ability to mediate effective immune responses to newly encountered antigens. It is generally believed that this reflects the age-associated decline in the number, repertoire and function of available naive T cells. Here, we propose that naive T cells become increasingly irrelevant to the immune system, and that responses to newly encountered antigens are progressively dominated by cross-reactive memory T cells as the individual ages. In addition, we propose that the majority, if not all, of the response to newly encountered antigens in the elderly is mediated by cross-reactive memory T cells. This predicts highly stochastic responses to new infections that should vary between individuals, and has important implications for vaccination strategies in the elderly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / immunology*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*